Five Discarded Oranges

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Photo Credit: Christine, Flickr

The Orange longlist was announced last week and I was sad to see it included several books that I had failed to complete. I thought I’d write a quick summary of the reasons I discarded each book so that you can see the issues I had and decide whether or not these problems would affect your reading enjoyment.

If you are a fan of great writing then I’m sure you will fall in love with the Orange longlist this year, but if you are like me and prefer books to have a strong narrative then I think you may be disappointed with the selection.

Great House by Nicole Krauss

I have seen lots of people raving about this book and so was expecting to fall in love with it, but although I was initially impressed with the quality of the writing I quickly tired of the long descriptions and the excessive detail in every scene. There were many points when I was inwardly shouting “GET ON WITH IT!!”

But this – this was something entirely different. This had bypassed all my defenses, had slipped unnoticed past the halls of reason, like a supervirus that has become resistant to everything, and only once it had taken root in the very core of me it reared its terrifying head.

The plot was so slow and meandering that I could barely see its existence and the central theme revolving around an old desk did nothing to excite me. At p105 I realised that I didn’t care about any of the characters and so I abandoned the book. I’m sure it has a clever ending, but I’m not willing to wade through another 200 pages to discover it. If you can cope without a plot then I’m sure you’ll love this one. It is definitely a book that divides opinion.

The Swimmer by Roma Tearne

As with her earlier book, Brixton Beach, this one got off to a fantastic start. The mysterious murder of several farm animals had me gripped to my seat, but the plot quickly lost momentum and became a typical story about asylum seekers. I felt I’d read this sort of thing many times before and as the gentle nature of the prose failed to engage me I gave up at page 77.

The Tiger’s Wife by Téa Obreht

I know that lots of people will love this one (especially fans of magical realism and adult fairy tales) but I’m afraid I had problems suspending my disbelief. The mixture of real life and myth didn’t work for me and the meandering plot stretched my tolerance too far. I gave up after 160 pages.

Grace Williams Says it Loud by Emma Henderson

I’m afraid I can’t really explain why I didn’t finish this one. I just didn’t connect with the writing and found that my mind kept wandering from the page. I did skim read to the end, but I’m afraid that nothing managed to pull me back into the text.

The London Train by Tessa Hadley

Unlike all the other books I abandoned I immediately connected with the characters in this book. The first few chapters completely sucked me in, but then things started to go wrong. Or to be more precise, they failed to go right. This book contained some amazing observations of people in society, but unfortunately very little actually happened. I lost interest after I found myself reading about yet another relationship problem and gave up after about 70 pages.

From my experience of the longlist this year it is clear that the Orange judges prefer books with interesting literary styles and they are not looking a gripping plot. I am sad that I have had such a bad experience with the list so far, but hope I’ll find something to enjoy in the remaining books.

If you enjoy reading beautifully written books with a meandering/non-existent plot then I’m sure you’ll love all of them.

Are you enjoying the Orange longlist this year?

Or, are you craving a bit more action?


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38 Comments

  1. Verity says:

    I gave up on the Swimmer a while ago, mainly cos my copy had very small type! I quite enjoyed Grace Williams says it loud. And I shall let you know what I think of the others in due course. Agree that it seems quite different to some of the previous lists!

    1. Jackie says:

      Verity, My copy of The Swimmer had normal sized type so that wasn’t the problem. I look forward to seeing what you think of the others. I hope you enjoy them more than I did!

  2. Sandy says:

    The only one on this list that I might try is The Tiger’s Wife. If magical realism was your problem, then I think I can get past it. It’s the ad nauseum detail and slow plot that trips me up.

    1. Jackie says:

      Sandy, I think I could have made it to the end if magical realism had been the only problem, but I thought the plot was too meandering and I lacked connection to the characters. I look forward to seeing if you have better luck with it.

  3. Shannon says:

    I’ve been looking forward to working through the list. I completely agree with you on Great House. I’ve been hearing great things about The Tiger’s Wife, but didn’t realize it was more of a fairy tale book. Don’t know that I’ll like that.

    1. Jackie says:

      Shannon, The fairy tale element of Tiger’s Wife is very strong. I’m sure all the symbolism is very clever/meaningful, but I struggled to understand the point. I’m afraid the scientist in me prefers books that reflect reality. :-(

  4. Oh dear. I enjoyed the first quarter of Great House the most, as it did not come together at all for me at the end. I haven’t tried the other four yet. I worry abou the disbelief factor in The Tiger’s Wife. I struggled with it in The Seas because I just didn’t buy it (and wasn’t even sure I was supposed to, which is another bizarre one.) The London Train excites me, and I’m eagerly awaiting the arrival of my copy, but I’m glad to know not much happens. I hope the list improves for you!

    1. Jackie says:

      Carrie, We must have been commenting on each others blogs at exactly the same moment! It does sound as though there are a lot of similarities between The Seas and The Tiger’s Wife. Those Orange judges must love fairy tales :-(

  5. TERESA says:

    I have a few of the others on the list reserved at the library so I will let you know when I get them! I did start The Birth of Love but got sidetracked by another non-Orange book and might return to it…

    1. Jackie says:

      Teresa, The Birth of Love suffers from the same lack of plot, but luckily the subject was enough to interest me. I could easily have left it aside at any point whilst I was reading, but I did connect with the characters and found the differences in birth experiences thorugh the ages very interesting. I hope you decide to pick it up again at some point.

  6. NancyO says:

    Oh my gosh! I thought I was the only one who didn’t like The Tiger’s Wife. I gave it up wondering where the heck was this book going. You don’t know how much better I feel that you didn’t finish it too!

    1. Jackie says:

      Nancy, Yes. It is always nice to know you are not alone. So many people seem to be raving about it at the moment and so it feels a bit odd to be one of the only ones not to fall in love with it.

  7. Emily Smith says:

    I’ve just finished The Swimmer, which I enjoyed well enough. I hadn’t read anything like it for a while (but then I haven’t read much published since about 1900 – thanks, English Literature degree…)

    I’m reading Grace Williams Says it Loud at the minute, and can’t decide what to make of it. At first I didn’t like it, I found the narrative style… not to my taste. But then I stopped on p70 last night before going to bed, and then realised I couldn’t stop thinking about it…

    1. Jackie says:

      Emily, I’m sure The Swimmer would have been better if I hadn’t read a host of similar books recently (eg. Sweetness in the Belly, Hearts and Minds, The Road Home etc all covered a similar theme, but I thought all did a better job)

      At least Grace Williams is original. It is such a shame as I can see it is a fascinating subject. I tried to read it a few times and even picked it up again when I saw it made the Orange longlist, but there is just something about it that doesn’t click with me. I hope you have better luck.

  8. Tricia says:

    I am reading Great House now and I love parts of it and feel ambiguous about others. I hope the rest of your Orange List reading is more fruitful! (haha)

    1. Jackie says:

      Tricia, There were several sections that I thought were really beautiful – such a shame that they weren’t part of a gripping plot.

      I love your mention of the word ‘fruitful’!! I’ve got my fingers crossed.

  9. JoV says:

    Unfortunately I was left cold by many Orange Longlist the past years and I have only resolve to read the winners. I know I shouldn’t be this way but I wonder how these books gets longlisted or shortlisted in the first place?

    Some other book prizes longlist and shortlist holds more promises than Orange I am afraid.

    Thanks for doing the Orange Long list feature!

    1. Jackie says:

      JoV, In the past the Orange longlist has been a wonderful mix of books I love and books I’m not so keen on. Unfortunately it seems as though this year the balance has swung in the wrong direction.

      The longlist is chosen by a panel of judges who pick from a selection of eligible books submitted by publishers, but I agree that other longlists look more promising this year. I hope the Booker is more appealing. :-)

  10. mee says:

    The History of Love is one of my favorite books ever so I’m bound to read Great House soon or later. Too bad it wasn’t for you. I don’t remember The History of Love being overly descriptive or too “literary” in style. I’d be interested to know your thoughts if you decide to give that a try!

    ps: I thought Tiger’s Wife has interesting title and it caught my interest. Not too keen on the rest.

    1. Jackie says:

      mee, I haven’t read The History of Love, but none of the reviews I’ve read led me to think it was overly literary. I own a copy so I will try it at some point. I hope I enjoy it as much as you did.

  11. FleurFisher says:

    With the exception of The Tiger’s Wife, which I am hoping to find a copy of soon, and Great House, which calls me not at all, your discards are books that weren’t on my radar until they were nominated. I’d have to agree that there’s a shortage of plot/character driven books this year, which is a shame but maybe a reaction to last year which i think had the balance wrong the other way.

    1. Jackie says:

      FleurFisher, The longlist last year had very few literary novels – even Wolf Hall + The Lacuna actually had a plot. I agree that last year the list was slightly skewed in the wrong direction, but looking back at previous years I think almost all the longlistees had plots. I think this year is a big departure from previous ones and a lot of Orange followers will be disappointed.

  12. Matt says:

    I read Great House for Independent Literary Award earlier this year and I felt the same frustration with the slowness. That said, the book is highly literary, adopting different voices of owners of one desk that has made its away over the pond after World War II. I was disappointed that the ending didn’t seem to tie up all the bundles.

    1. Jackie says:

      Matt, Thanks for letting me know that it didn’t even tie up things at the end – that would have frustrated me even more! It is amazing how different everyones taste in books is.

  13. Ann says:

    Thanks for the reviews.
    Ann

  14. Amused says:

    Yikes! I will definitely keep this in mind when reading these. I’ve only read two on the list so far – Room and Invisible Bridge and I enjoyed them both. I do, however, try to read them all eventually as I find they often are different than what I read the rest of the year.

    1. Jackie says:

      Amused, My copy of Invisible Bridge has just arrived at the library and so I hope to pick it up soon. I have high hopes that it will be one of my favourites on the list. I’ve got my fingers crossed :-)

  15. I really enjoyed the Swimmer – agree the second half was less interesting, but I loved the older man character (forgotten his name – Ed?). I have the Tiger’s Wife on my TBR pile and will still be interested to read it. Nicole Krauss – I’ve given up on her previous 2, so don’t expect third time lucky – definitely one to wait for the paperback!

    1. Jackie says:

      Annabel, It is quite reassuring to know that the second half of the Swimmer was less interesting – it is always nice to know that my instincts to abandon it were right. I think you’ll probably enjoy The Tiger’s Wife and I look forward your thoughts. Enjoy :-)

  16. Alison M. says:

    I am *loving* “Annabel” having been persuaded to give it a go. Don’t miss “Jamrach’s Menagerie” if you want a bit of plot.

    1. Jackie says:

      Alison, Thanks for letting me know that Jamrach’s Menagerie has a plot – I look forward to reading it. :-)

  17. Amy says:

    I have to admit that I slogged through all of Great House but rather wish I had abandoned it. It was well written but just not my type of book. I never really connected with it. The others here I haven’t read but I don’t have any plans of picking them up either :)

    1. Jackie says:

      Amy, Yes. I don’t think anyone can accuse Krauss of not being a very good writer – she just isn’t my cup of tea :-) I’ll let you know if it is worth adding any of the others to your list….

  18. TERESA says:

    Re The Seas, I have just “abandoned ship” – no plot, no characterisation and even I who have a penchant for quiet, meandering novels was completely lost.

    1. Jackie says:

      Teresa, Thanks for letting me know. I think I’ve abandoned it too. I haven’t actually got hold of a copy, but I read the first few chapters that are available online and decided I didn’t want it enough to buy it. I wasn’t a fan of The Invention of Everything Else and so I’m not going to torture myself with it. It is good to know that my instincts are looking right on this one.

  19. Lydia says:

    I’ve been grappling with whether or not I should abandon a book I began a month ago. It’s been a slow slog and, unfortunately, I just haven’t connected with the characters or the plot. Now that the book’s library due date is arriving soon, I’m not sure I feel the need to renew or rush to the end.

    Perhaps it’ll retire to the DNF shelf…

  20. I’m enjoying the longlist reading so far (and still hoping to beat last year’s record of 16 of them), but most of the ones you’ve mentioned are further down in my reading plans (shipping issues, not personal preference). So maybe I’m just enjoying the best of the bunch.

    I did read — and admired — Nicole Krauss’ novel (my thoughts are here if you’re curious) but it was a startlingly demanding read. ::wipes brow::

    The one I’m not looking forward to is The Tiger’s Wife because I didn’t care for the short story published alongside her 20Under40 nomination in The New Yorker. But maybe I’ll be surprised…

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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