Friday, November 04, 2005

What a waste of time!

When I was little, I used to worry my parents with how quickly I could read.

From the age of about 7, I could finish one of those Enid Blyton short story collections in a day or two. (Two was if I had a lot of homework and ballet class). At my nanny's house, I would drag out maybe half a dozen issues of Readers' Digest from the 60s and 70s and read them all in one afternoon after school. OK, I didn't read the whole thing, I generally skipped the parts about practical advice for parents and 7 warning signs your car is trying to give you.

Now, at this beautiful age of 25, I am still able to read quite fast.

So with a very long weekend brought on by two consecutive public holidays, I thought I might as well spend a whole day reading (with some guilt-driven cleaning in between). And I managed to finish a book I'd begun on Wednesday evening. Yay!

Except that it was a very, very lousy book. It left me with such a bad taste in my mouth that I almost feel I must read at least one Anne of Green Gables book as an antidote. Why was it such a bad book? Oh dear, let me count the ways.

The Plot
This writer must have stumbled upon the literary equivalent of MSG. Evidently, he doesn't know the secret of making a story tantalising and delicious in its own right, so he needed to throw in plenty of violence, quite a lot of foul language, disturbing references to deviant sex, and annoying negative racial stereotypes. Just as in real life, the flavour enhancer monosodium glutamate leaves me nauseated, thirsty and otherwise ill for hours, so did this book leave me. Another book by the same author that I was considering reading now sits next to my bookshelf looking less appealing by the minute. For more reasons why, read on.

The Characters
This guy really has no respect for the human race. Out of all the ethnicities, occupations, abilities and disabilities, appearances and personalities possible, he managed to make up:

  • a male protagonist who's, naturally, white, college-educated, attractive and healthy, with claustrophobia as his only disability (claustrophobia is quite a common malaise among protagonists, although it's more common in the movies among women who get caught in elevators with psychotic dark men.)
  • a female lead character who's white, slim, attractive, healthy and believes "the world is one" and does a lot of yoga
  • an ambiguous, villainish character in a wheelchair who has a hard, unapproachable and downright creepy countenance and personality (what, are all wheelchair users so bitter thanks to infirmity? I don't suppose there's any chance of a cheerful, mentally healthy, intelligent protag in a wheelchair?)
  • a token "coloured" character whose exact ethnicity is not given, but who has a thing for violent killing, hates organised religion, enjoys hurting women and has other creepy traits that are seldom explained in detail, but rather suspiciously mentioned in close proximity to repeated descriptions of his skin colour
  • and numerous others that it's just too tiring to describe

The Language
I've said before that I'd read a book with no plot if the language was beautiful enough. To me, a good book is one that doesn't necessarily end with all the loose ends tied, all the bad boys dead or sent to prison and the protagonists in bed together. (I have noticed that in Contemporary Popular Novel Land, people who are married seem to be doing all they can to get rid of their spouses and see sex with them as the most revolting thing on earth, whereas the attractive person they get to share hair-raising adventures with is seen as pleasure on legs. Until, of course, they get married. For what happens next, see the beginning of this parenthesis.)

Therefore, I felt thoroughly patronised and insulted at this author's use of rambling, pseudo-artistic, look-Ma-I'm-deep sentences, lengthy intellectual speeches delivered ad lib (will someone please tell me how people in deep crisis can be so profound and not even stutter, leak boogers or cough ONCE???) and introspective first-person reflections that read as smoothly as a Standard 1 pupil's holiday composition.

The Credibility
Most of all, I was irritated at the half-truths, misrepresentations and sweeping statements used to describe people and organisations. Actually, I wouldn't be so hissy with all that if the author wouldn't take himself so seriously. I could practically read between the lines and see him writing himself in as an additional character, applauding every self-serving sentence and saying "SOMEBODY NOMINATE ME FOR A BOOKER!"

So that's one day wasted on a book that has not educated, entertained or uplifted me. It raised no critical questions in my head, did not at any point cause me to identify with any of its characters, and most of the time made me wonder how many coats of lacquer it would take before it could be used as a doorstop. But then I wouldn't wish such a dreadful ornament on even the home of my worst enemy. So now that I've finished it, I can return it to its rightful owner and hope he will share at least some of my reaction.

Oh, it's so terrible to suffer in silence after the trauma of a bad book.

I suppose it could have been worse. I could have been a slow reader.

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