Tuesday, March 03, 2009

How did this so great, turn so shitty?

Putting down a book that never clicks is easy. There are a few rules out there about how to do it. I spoke to a bookseller who recommended reading the first page of a few books at the store and picking the one that you liked best. Nancy Pearl has a rule of fifty to decide whether to give up on a book. Fantasy novels are a special case of course, often requiring a few hundred pages of reading just to acclimate to the invented vocabularies, pronunciations and social constructions.

I still have no hard and fast rule for a book for the book that goes south mid-way through. This is actually a much worse condition as the average reader will be invested at this point. Driven either by a desire to find out what happens or a high school English teacher instilled sense that putting a book down is a sign of poor character, the reader soldiers on, all the while thinking of the much better reading experiences they might be having.

I recently ran into this problem with Mo Hayder's Pig Island. This one started out so well. An investigative journalist heads off to an isolated Scottish island rumored to have a Satanic pretense. There are shades of Wicker Man as he meets the peculiar inhabitants. Hayder creates a great sense of dread and then presents a series of truly upsetting horrors. About a third of the way through, the book shifts gears and becomes remarkably tedious. Gone is the dread and instead we have a lackluster serial killer scenario.

In this case, I worked my way through to the ending, but really I should have just abandoned ship. My greatest fear is these situations is that sudden drop in my enjoyment is merely momentary and that book will get back on course a few chapters later. More often than not this doesn't happen. Still, I hold on for the chance, or maybe just skip to the end.


christina said...

Ugh! I hate when that happens, although I have to say, rarely has a book done such an extreme turn around halfway through (for better or for worse).

I'm curious. Were you disappointed because the mystery was no longer phenomenal (evil presence) or because they caved and went the expected serial killer route?

Tripp said...

For me it felt that the ominous atmosphere Hayder created completely left the book and it became more of an (uninteresting) character study.

Also, the sense of mystery evaporated. After the big happening 1/3 of the way through, I thought, "Oh I guess X happened, but that would be too obvious!" Well what I thought happened did in fact occur, but to find out, I had to wade through a lot of not terribly interesting stuff.

Serial killer isn't exactly correct, as she presented the threat of a serial killer, more than the acts. Really it just lost momentum.

Citizen Reader said...

Oh, that is disappointing. And it's an interesting question, when to give up on a book. I think it's a bigger struggle with fiction, in which you feel you must read every page of the story (nonfiction is more forgiving of just jumping around and reading what you need). If I'm not liking a fiction book by the first twenty-five pages, usually, that's my sign to quit, although I will then sometimes read the last chapter. But to get many chapters in? Very disappointing.

How odd that the author had the ability to create mood and suspense and then just abandoned it. What a waste.

Tripp said...

To be fair to her, I think was did it intentionally in order to confound and also to set a different type of tension. I just don't think it worked.