It’s a closed question, so it’s got to be either a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’, but can is there a ‘maybe’? In the last couple of weeks I’ve been struggling with this dilemma. Following the successful MOOC. Plagues, Witches and Wars, there’s a bunch of us in a virtual community over on Facebook. We’ve diverted into a group that shares interesting snippets connected to Historical Fiction, and also established a book group. This month’s book, up for discussion tomorrow, is Matthew Paarl’s The Dante Club.
I have truly struggled with this book, and then struggled on whether it was right to give up on it or not. Forget the book itself, and think about the question. Is it heresy to give up on a book? I’ve certainly been in the ‘life’s too short’ camp to battle on with a book that just doesn’t grab me, and would have answered ‘heck no,’ but having become much more engaged in writer’s circles, I’m, well, more respectful. My only regret in not finishing a book is one that my husband gave me as a gift. As an aside, on St Valentine’s Day, isn’t the gift of a book a truly romantic one – something chosen just for you? He thought I’d be totally fascinated by this particular book, as I love a biography and the great explorers fascinate me. Ernest Shackleton was a turgid, difficult read, and I barely managed more than a few pages. Pete, fortunately, loved the book and delighted in teasing me at times for what I was missing. Perhaps he was right. I’ll never know.
These days, I won’t give up without a fight for the book. 50 pages, that should do it. Not all books are for all people, and I think that an arbitrary 50 pages, a few chapters ought to be enough of a fight. Layered on this as a reasonable stance, what about the added dilemma of others in the book club, and the quality of the discussion about the book? I can put some thoughts together on why it didn’t engage me – that’s more than not just liking it, btw. I’ve ploughed on through books that I didn’t like (except The Historian, because that gave me nightmares, and The Dragon Tattoo one, which just disturbed me), but The Dante Club, well, I just could not connect with. The characters were a complete muddle, and I didn’t care about them at all, if only I could have distinguished one from another. Ultimately, that’s why I stopped reading it,; it wasn’t difficult, just dull. Did it get 50 pages? That’s hard to measure on a Kindle, where the nominal location is a meaningless gauge. On this book, after a lot of struggling on ‘for the book group’, with a tempting mountain of books on the ‘to read’ list, I put it down. The Kindle told me that I was 20% through. It was a mighty relief to put it down. And yes, I feel guilty about it.
I asked my sister, given to wiseness in such matters, and she thought that life was really too short and that my having abandoned it would add something to the discussion. I certainly hope she’s right.