Prattle on
Tuesday, August 22, 2006
So, when I was younger I thought that if a book was published it was because it was good, the writing was good, or interesting or innovative. I came to understand that there were always trends in writing style, those of us forced to read way too much of that lyrical prose in university can certainly attest to that (while I appreciated some lyrical prose, the collection of bad books in that sub-genre made me really appreciate the get-to-the-point writers). I also understood that book publishing is a business and that publishers will print and distribute books that are sellable. While Paris Hilton’s diary makes no positive additions to the literary landscape that is not going to stop tens of thousands of tweens from buying it.

I know that we have romance, and science fiction, mystery and that ever more sickening chick-lit (please tell me this will soon end). Authors who write in those genres seem happy there and they do not fancy themselves among the literary greats. But, every so often, I come across a book that is trying to pass itself off as serious literature and it is really just self-indulgent crap (much like this blog).

You may be wondering what brought all this on? This weekend, while lounging at a country house in the Eastern Townships I read the first four chapters of Alan Cumyn’s “The Famished Lover.” It was my fault really, there was pretty lingerie on the cover and I picked the book up off the boardroom table because of that. Never has a cliché bitten me harder. The book is about a guy who has come back from WWI, is totally changed by his experience and looks at beautiful young women as an escape. In fact, fantasizing about a former girlfriend helped him to survive captivity. Original. He is so struck by a woman’s beauty he is compelled to paint the female form naked in all its glory. Again, original. He is just that moved by beauty. Sure.

Back in Canada, years after the war he marries an inexperienced woman many years his junior. They married about three weeks after they met, as he was attracted to her youth and beauty. BORING. Upon marriage, she was, of course a virgin, and her first time with him was, obviously, totally satisfying for her. Then, when she gets pregnant, he fells trapped. Poor guy. Everything would have been fine had she just never aged, matured or had her own mind. Feeling stagnant in the marriage to a woman he barely knows, he has an affair and it is absolutely passionate. Yes, a shocking twist.

This is what I have pieced together from the first four chapters and the back of the book. It was so sickening I could go no further. Perhaps for a fair judgment of the book I should actually read the whole thing. But, we all know that wont happen – partially because I forgot the book on the floor of the living room (that’s where I left it when I decided to quit that book and read the collected letters of T.S. Elliot*). A significant reason stopping me from finishing it is I have a strange aversion to reading boring warped male fantasies. I mean, if I have to consume male fantasy at least make it exciting, like Fight Club, or really weird, like Eyes Wide Shut.

The other significant reason why I just can’t read the book is that it is just plainly over the top. It is like he concentrated on writing these sentences with too many words but didn’t give a thought to how the sentences fit together. Nor did he seem to care that conversations and characters generally need a context so the reader is not left thinking, “What the hell is he on about?” or “Where the hell is this coming from?”

Anyway, the book, thus far, is bad and not train wreck bad, but just plain bad, the worst kind of bad. You can’t even make fun of it. It’s depressing.

*While reading these letters I found out that T.S. Elliot’ uncle – also an Elliot – bought a fair bit of land in Memphremagog lake in the Eastern Townships, very close to where I was sitting at that moment. I wonder if the living descendants of those Elliots still own that land, and if not, who did they sell to?

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