Three Disappointing Reads

Flight Behaviour Shortlisted for 2013 Women’s Fiction Prize

Flight Behaviour by Barbara Kingsolver

Five words from the blurb: butterflies, marriage, climate, destruction, poverty

Flight Behaviour begins with the discovery of thousands of monach butterflies a long way from their usual migratory path. An investigation into their behaviour change begins; a story that runs alongside that of one woman’s marital breakdown.

This book had many beautiful passages, but the climate change argument was heavy handed. I felt as though I was being given a lecture, with a weak, meandering story occasionally getting in the way of this verbal battering.

Climate change is an important subject, but I’m afraid this book lacked the emotional power required to motivate anyone to change their habits. I was surprised to see it shortlisted for the Women’s Fiction Prize.


Are You My Mother?: A Comic Drama

Are You My Mother? by Alison Bechdel

Five words from the blurb:  graphic novel, relationship, psychoanalyst, readers, mother

A few years ago I read Fun Home and loved its dry humor and originality. Unfortunately the sequel didn’t live up to my expectations and I ended up abandoning it after about 50 pages.

Are You My Mother? follows the same graphic novel format as Fun Home, but is a lot darker. It concentrates on the relationship between Bechdel and her mother, but feels repetitive. The continual introspection bored me and I longed for the book to take on a wider subject matter. Unfortunately my wish was granted with the introduction of Virginia Woolf. I’m not a fan of Woolf and the references to her work did nothing for me. The book went on to quote numerous passages from a psychology text book and the plot was too meandering to engage me with its weird content. I gave up after about 50 pages.

I recommend reading Fun Home, but only try this one if you’re a fan of complex psychoanalysis.



Marks of Identity (Spanish Literature) Translated from the Spanish by Gregory Rabassa

Marks of Identity by Juan Goytisolo

Five words from the blurb: Spain, exile, searches, history, political

I’m going to Barcelona soon and so wanted to read some fiction set in the city. This book was described as a Spanish masterpiece and seemed to be exactly what I was looking for. Unfortunately I found it very difficult to read – after about 30 pages I still had no idea what was happening. This is probably because I don’t know much about Spanish history. I’m sure that anyone familiar with the political situation within the country will appreciate this, but I’m afraid it was lost on me.


Have you read any of these books?

What did you think of them?

30 replies on “Three Disappointing Reads”

I read the Prisoner of Heaven by Zafon, set in Barcelona during the Spanish Civil War. You do have to have an idea of the political background and history to really like the book!

Harvee, It sounds as though Prisoner of Heaven wouldn’t be for me either. I hope that one day I’ll have enough knowledge to make these books enjoyable.

I haven’t read any of these books. I was wondering about Flight Behaviour, but as I was disappointed by The Lacuna I wasn’t sure whether to bother. I may have a look if I see it in a bookshop or library, but I’m not going to rush.

Margaret, I was disappointed in The Lacuna, but enjoyed The Poisonwood Bible. I’m not sure I’ll be in a rush to try her next book, but wouldn’t rule it out all together.

Totally agree with you about Flight Behavior (the only one of these three that I’ve read). I know how great Barbara Kingsolver can be and, well, this isn’t it. Sometimes the writing was beautiful, but other times, it was really pretty terrible (remember that line about the guy having a “chin that rhymed with grin”? What does that even mean?!?). I also though the storytelling took a backseat to the moralizing, all of which ultimately made the book just middle of the road for me.

Steph, It is nice to know we agree on this one. I agree about the storytelling having a low priority. Such a shame as it had so much potential.

I think Kingsolver often comes close to preaching, but for me she always just avoids it by her message being central to the story, though I’ll agree this one came closer to crossing the line than others of hers I’ve read. She perhaps gets away with it here by having the church be central to the story… maybe?

I’m not sure I agree about it lacking the necessary emotional power to back up its message – it offers an incredibly bleak outlook that had me feeling doomed for days after reading it in a way that news stories about climate change often don’t.

If I had one issue with ‘Flight Behaviour’ it is that I don’t think she was doing anything new – the setting and some aspects of the story are very similar to her earlier novel, ‘Prodigal Summer’.

Personally I’m quite happy for it to be on the Women’s Prize shortlist, though I don’t think it should win. ‘Bring Up The Bodies’ or ‘May We Be Forgiven’ would be my preferences, unless the latter goes horribly pear-shaped in the last 100 pages! (I know you weren’t a fan of the Homes, Jackie – didn’t you abandon it? – and it certainly took me a while to get used to how bonkers it is, but in its own surreal way I think it has quite a lot to say about modern life and what constitutes ‘family’. It’s also laugh-out-loud funny.)

David, Kingsolver often comes across as preachy, but this time she crossed the line for me. In the past she’s just about pulled it off, but as I’m not religious I wonder if the church element meant I had less tolerance than usual?

I can see why you experienced a bleak/doomed feeling after finishing this book, but I didn’t think it had any real call to action. Some books have left me wanting to live a more sustainable life/made me feel guilty for using my car etc but this book was so general in its doom that it failed to produce any change in my thoughts/actions. (I’m afraid I haven’t read Prodigal Summer, so can’t comment on their similarity.)

I did abandon May We Be Forgiven as it was too mad for me. I’m pleased you managed to enjoy it, but I found myself getting increasingly wound up by it all – I don’t think that kind of humor works for me. I would be quite surprised to see it win – I think Life After Life stands a better chance of pipping Bring up the Bodies at the post.

I’m not religious either (though I find religion very interesting) – I only mentioned the church as it seemed to me there were two lots of preaching going on in the book: the church’s and Kingsolver’s and I wondered if the reader was supposed to ask which was the more important message. Of course I could be completely up the pole there!

I’d agree that she hasn’t made me change any of my behaviour (I tend to think quite ‘green’ anyway), but she does always make me think more about things – aid/charity to Africa with ‘The Poison wood Bible’, the importance of predators to the food chain with ‘Prodigal Summer’.

The Homes is definitely mad – I nearly gave up on it quite early on as it was so far-fetched but then I started to realise that she’s commenting on how mad the modern world and the way we live actually is. I actually think it’s quite a clever book.

Andi, It is great to hear that you enjoyed Fun Home – it is such a unique book. Hopefully her next one will return to the glory of her first.

Ah, yeah, this is kind of why I haven’t read Flight Behaviour, even though I often like Barbara Kingsolver a lot. It seems like it’s very easy for her to slip into being didactic, and the heavy-handedness is what I worry about. Good to know this one’s okay to skip!

Jenny, She is one of those authors who can produce a wide range of books. I can’t decide whether or not I want her to be more consistent!

The only one I’ve read on your list, Jackie, is Flight Behavior – and although I really enjoyed the book, I was surprised to see it making the short list for The Women’s Prize…it seemed a little light, or maybe just not literary enough. I was REALLY surprised to see Gone Girl nominated for the long list – I read the book and thought it was a great psychological thriller…but again, it felt out of place on the awards list.

Wendy, I wasn’t surprised to see either book make the longlist. Gone Girl wasn’t for me, but I did like the way different genres were represented on the long list. It isn’t supposed to be a prize for literary fiction so it was nice to see the best books from other genres getting a chance in the spotlight.

Flight Behaviour is sitting on my shelf. I wanted to return it to the library. After reading what you said, I will definitely reading it! 😀

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