The Chemistry of Tears by Peter Carey

Until my dying day I will remain mystified by whether Peter Carey is a writer once good, gone bad, or whether I was seduced by home-sickness into adoring Illywhacker.

This is awful, I’d like to hand it over to Reger of Old Masters to properly trash it to death. I have no need to rant about it myself, plenty of others have expressed their bemusement online. But I felt need to note that I tried and that any failure is not, in my opinion, the fault of the reader.

I do wish I hadn’t wasted valuable book buying funds on this one.

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The Red Notebook by Antoine Laurain

Awful. Trivial tripe terribly written. What possessed me to buy a book about a handbag?

Just be be clear about it, that is zero stars for the first 40 pages, consequently abandoned.

And one reflects (again) on the state of French ‘literature’ that this author is highly regarded in that country as a writer of the same.

Voices from the Street by Philip K Dick

This is a UFD. Let me explain.

Almost before he could read, Lloyd Spiegel wanted to play blues. As a precocious youngster he went on tour of the US. Bo Diddley came to see him and then went backstage and asked Spiegel what he wanted to be. Lloyd beamed up at him. ‘Don’t you get it, Mr Diddley? I’m a blues man.’ Whereupon Bo Diddley looked down at him and said ‘Son – you’ll be a blues man when I say you’re a blues man’.

Late in life Dick opined that he hadn’t been told early and often enough when his work was no good. I guess it’s too late, but if you are listening from whatever bizarre possie you might have elsewhere now: this book here? Voices from the Street? Absolutely bar none the worst written thing I’ve ever seen in print. To be fair, it wasn’t you who published it. It was somebody who figured there was some money to be made from The Legend of PK Dick.

Lloyd Spiegel, enthusiasm unquenched by Bo’s assessment, carried on his tour. Knowing Chuck Berry was in the audience at another show, he performed his interpretation of one of Chuck’s hits. Chuck came backstage to see him. Lloyd beamed up at him. ‘What did you think of it, Mr Berry?’ Chuck looked down at him and said ‘Son – that was an unmitigated fucking disaster.’

UFD. I read that the Dick Legend is such that an army of believers is willing to read complete crap if it is written by him. Apparently it is interesting to see the development of his ideas. Not if it is early incompetent drivel. People are so nosey.

I can’t recall where I bought this. It has a sticker that says ’22’ on the back. I have no idea what currency that is, but I bitterly resent the idea that I might have spent 22 cents on this. Or 22 anything-elses for that matter.

Harry Harrison and Christopher Fowler: aka the good bad and the bad bad.

Deathworld I admit it. Harry Harrison’s bad style irritated me. For a while. Mainly it was these. The short sentences. If you can call them that. Sentences.

I did manage after some encouragement from the ranks to get over that and I’m glad I did. It’s a good bad-book. The Wildside edition I read was horribly proofread, but not nearly as badly as the academic books I’ve been reading lately. Nothing, at any rate, that distracted me from a punchy story, good characterisation as sci fi goes and a really interesting idea for world in which the story takes place.

As it happens I next picked up The Invisible Code by Christopher Fowler. I thought this was going to be another good bad-book for a few pages, but it doesn’t take long to discover it’s a bad bad-book. Really so bad on all levels that I don’t know what I find more mystifying: that is is consistently praised on goodreads or that it is the tenth in a series. The tenth! It’s messy, heavy handed, repetitive, characters so badly drawn that one never recognises any of them and this in turn adds to the confusion of dialogue set out so that it is impossible, as a rule, to tell who is speaking. In fact it’s the first thing I’ve read that makes me wonder if Harry Potter might be well written after all. Yeah. Maybe I should upgrade HP to a good bad-book.

Tender is the Night by F Scott Fitzgerald

If I had time, I’d rage into the night about this one, but I’d rather move onto one of the slightly scary number of books I have on my to-read shelf.

I haven’t read much of it, though I’ve tried various times over the last couple of weeks to blame myself for that and get over it. But there is no getting over it. I can scarcely believe that this is written by the same person from whom I expect elegant, succinct prose. This seems like a reject from Mills and Boon – I can just see the letter. ‘Cut it in half, less of the tawdry and we’ll reconsider. No promises mind. We don’t really think you are up to it.’ I see in reading a bit about its composition, why it is a wallowing piece of utter embarrassment to the reader, whilst being too close to the writer’s heart. Nothing except good punctuation should be close to that particular organ. It has a duel for heaven’s sake. Maybe the duel doesn’t take place – I didn’t read far enough to see – but honestly, what was he thinking of?

I feel let down and I’m taking it personally. How could you do this to me, Fitzgerald?

I’m in recovery with a nice book of Indian short stories. More on that soon.

The Lost Boy by Camilla Läckberg

I have to say I’m fair dinkum gobsmacked at how bad this book is. I guess although I’ve read a vast amount in the general area, I rarely descent to the lowest common demoninator. And, ladies and gentlemen, what a descent it is.

Having said that, I can understand why it is so popular. In that blunt, matter-of-fact Swedish way the language is simple enough for semi-literate people – it reads like it has been written by a competent eight-year old. And this, of course, must make it a doddle to translate – useful for something planning to be a big seller outside the small native-speaking population. There is an avalanche of stereo-typed characters that are entirely undemanding. The plot is almost non-existent, so nothing taxing there either.

And yet, despite the almost entire lack of plot, this plods on and one AND ON for over 500 pages. I’m guessing you only need to read about a 40th of this to follow it. The rest is padding, the tedium of which makes Steig Larsson’s sandwich descriptions stand out as on-the-edge-of-your-seat-thrilling, small sub-plot masterpieces. Apparently this is what readers en masse want at the moment, padding and tedium. If that is so, this review will signally fail. Damn it, padding just isn’t my thing.

The Sea, the sea by Irish Murdoch or What is wrong with the Booker.

Written after 28 of 502 pages.

Of course you are going to want to know why I’m not reading another page of this book. Of course, you are going to want to know why, should I ever find myself near to Murdoch – and I mean Iris, whose crimes against humanity already strike me as not so far away as you might think, from the other one’s – and should I have a loaded shooting device at hand, I will ask her, donning an insincere smile intending to look pacific, what the capital crime punishment is hereabouts. Of course I will be thinking exactly what you think I will be thinking.

Why? Because she fucking uses the words ‘of course’ all the time, of course.

Of course, of course….you’re going to raise the ‘but it isn’t her, it’s her character using the words’ argument, aren’t you? Well, some of you. Go away. I don’t want you to finish reading the rest of this. We could all do that, couldn’t we? Write crap in the first person and get it published. Of course, we could.

Get it published, did I say? Heck, we can do better than that. We can get it a Booker Prize. Big mistake. If I’d read the back cover, I never would have started this book. That’s the first thing about any book. Check that it hasn’t won the Booker…it hasn’t?…tick, read.

Of course, I’m not counting, but:

p. 24 Of course it is quite impossible to buy fresh fish…
p. 25 Of course they do not…..
p. 25 Of course the notion of growing herbs….
p. 27 Basil is of course the king of herbs
p. 28 And of course we acted plays too.
p. 28 Of course I loved my mother
p. 29 I went into the theatre of course…
p. 29 3 lines later, mark you: I had of course other motives.

For fuck’s sake. I wouldn’t even mind if we agreed it was hastily written trash. Maybe that’s what the Booker Prize is for?

But, of course, that isn’t what you are going to say, is it? And you know who you are. All fifteen or so of you. You’re going to talk about how carefully each word was selected by this skilled craftsman, this writer of literature. How she mulled over every word – for years, probably – picking at them, adding, subtracting, reconsidering. Of course she did.

I check the ‘about’ link on the Booker Prize, page: ‘The Man Booker Prize promotes the finest in fiction by rewarding the very best book of the year. The prize is the world’s most important literary award and has the power to transform the fortunes of authors and even publishers….’

Important, then. Maybe too important for merit to enter the equation. Or maybe this was just some seriously crap year for books.

‘The Man Booker judges are selected from the country’s finest critics, writers and academics to maintain the consistent excellence of the prize.’ Well, that’s okay, then. If that’s who selects the prize winner, we can sleep easy, as we are then reassured:

One of the main reasons for the Man Booker Prize’s pre-eminence in the world is the known integrity of its judging process. There has never been even a whisper of bribery or corruption or influence, as with other internationally known prizes….Every effort is made to achieve a balance between the judges of gender, articulacy and role, so that the panel includes a literary critic, an academic, a literary editor, a novelist and a major figure. Then, once they are appointed, they are in charge without the slightest interference from the administrator or the sponsor. From this has grown the total independence and balance that lies at the heart of the choices made. It is that which gives the Man Booker Prize its very special distinction among literary prizes the world over.

Being a compulsive researcher, I couldn’t just leave it there. What was so wrong with the books of 1978 that The sea, the sea got the BP guernsey?

Looking at the goodreads most popular list of books published in 1978 I see, for example,

Danielle Steele Now and Forever

Although Jessica and Ian Clarke have been married seven years, they insist the thrill and excitement haven’t dimmed. At Jessica’s urging, Ian has quit his advertising job to become a struggling writer, and she supports him with her successful San Francisco boutique.

Ian’s financial dependence on Jessica upsets him more than he admits, and in a moment of bored malaise, Ian’s first casual indiscretion will create a nightmare that threatens everything Jessica and Ian have carefully built. What he does changes their lives, and them, perhaps forever, as they struggle to pay the price of his foolhardy affair.

Sophie, in her review, gives these quotes:

The elevator let her out on the sixth floor, and all she knew was that she wanted to Ian. Suddenly she knew she could crawl through any amount of fear and anger, over a thousand puce satin pimps, just to get to Ian. -62

There was something, though. It surfaced at unexpected moments. A whisper of fear, almost terror. Sickness, perhaps? The loss of a breast? Astrid wondered but did not pry. -117

Jessie turned out the light and wiped two tears from her face. She felt the funny gold lima bean at her throat and tried to make herself smile, but she couldn’t. They were past laughing at lima beans now, past laughing at anything, and who knew–one day she might sell the lima bean too.-174

But I am growing now. Perhaps “up,” I don’t know yet. -298

It has romance, drama, breast, lima beans, self-reflection. Isn’t that enough to win a BP? And I bet it wasn’t even on the long list.

Then there is Johanna Lindsey Pirate’s Love

With languid tropical breezes caressing her breathtakingly beautiful face, Bettina Verlaine stood before the mast, sailing westward to fulfill a promise her heart never made–marriage to a Count her eyes had never beheld. Then in a moment of swashbuckling courage, the pirate Tristan swept her away and the spell of his passion was cast over her heart forever. But many days–and fiery nights–must pass before their love could flower into that fragile blossom a woman gives to only one man.

I observe a interesting difference of opinion on goodreads about this. There are those who think that the pirate’s constant raping of Betinna is not a good thing, while these are those who see straightforward romance and men just being men, I guess. There is the girl who absolutely straightfacedly said it was well worth the ten cents she paid for it.

Frankly, I’m with Nielam on this one who said:

hihihihi,aku suka banget buku ini…sejenis sama harlequin gitu tapi lebih make sense.soalnya it took times for the heroine bettina verlaine to eventually fall in love sama tristan.trus tristan itu bajak laut!!!how cool is that!(walau sebenarnya dia pelaut yang bekerja dibawah komandonya inggris sih,but still)

ngebayangin tristan kayaknya keren banget…mirip sama tokoh2 komiknya kyoko hikawa kali yaaa…tinggi besar menjulang.

jadi pengen baca buku johanna lindsey yang lain 🙂

thus stimulating an interesting comment exchange which you will excuse my not introducing here.

And what about Erich Segal Oliver’s Story???

Sequel to Love Story. Two years after losing the love of his life, Oliver feels he will never love again–should never love again. Then, one day he meets a beautiful and mysterious woman.

The plot line alone should have put this on the short list, if that is, the BP is as impartial as they would have us believe.

‘There has never been even a whisper of bribery or corruption or influence?’ Hello Booker Prize. That claim can stop right now. Read this review and weep.