30 day book challenge – day 13 – A book that disappointed you

I had to think about this for a while, because I do genuinely enjoy most of what I read, and I do try to start out with an open mind.  Even if I don’t love everything I read, I usually find something that I’ve enjoyed about it.  But then I realised that being disappointed in a book doesn’t have to mean the same thing as not enjoying it – it comes down to expectations and I can think of a couple of books that failed to live up to what I had expected of them.

The first is The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde.

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I had never heard of this book, but a good friend of mine who doesn’t tend to read a lot knew the basics of the story, and suggested we read the book together in the run up to the film.  I will never turn down an opportunity to convert a non-reader to reading, and my expectations were high – I had never read anything by Oscar Wilde but I knew his writing was famous, and I had been promised by my friend that this was a really good story.

For anyone who is not familiar with it, Dorian Gray is a wealthy, naive young man, who descends into a downward spiral of sin and debauchery when he realises that his portrait bears all the stains of his soul.  He basically never grows old and can do whatever he likes without carrying any outward signs of it.

It is a good idea for a story, a really good idea.    But it is a really hard read.  It is a very short book, but I struggled to finish it.  It is difficult to put into words, but the voice was all over the place and sometimes the narrative seemed to lose all coherence and became very rambling.  Somewhere in this confusion, the drama was lost.  After I had finished reading it, I found out that the book had prompted a huge backlash of criticism from conservative Victorian society and there were calls for Wilde to be prosecuted for obscenity.  The outcome of this was that Oscar Wilde extensively reworked the book, expanding it, adding a new sub plot and toning down some of it’s homoerotic scenes.  This is apparent in the confusion and lack of cohesiveness.  A brilliant concept, but a big disappointment for me.

The other one that stood out is The Shack by William P. Young.

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I like to read anything a bit quirky, offbeat and original; if it is a bit controversial as well then even better.  The Shack seemed to tick all of these boxes.  It is the story a father grieving for his murdered child meeting the holy trinity in person at the shack at which his daughter was murdered.  It raised some interesting theological questions, and I take my hat off to the author for being brave enough to portray God as a woman.

However, overall the book didn’t live up to my expectations.  For some reason, prior to reading it I had thought that it was based on a true story, and it certainly reads that way in the beginning.  I think starting out on the wrong foot like that was maybe what caused my problem with the book.

It was quite wordy and revolved around the main character’s conversations with God.  I suppose it is hard to say how someone should react if they all of a sudden meet God in person, but I felt that the reaction of the main character (who at that point I thought was a real man describing what he believed was a real experience) just didn’t feel realistic.  It would be an earth-changingly mind blowing moment, but he took it all in his stride with barely a ruffle or a question.  Maybe that it what it means to have faith.

Even once I realised that I was reading fiction, the ending did not work for me at all.  I’m not going to spoil it for anyone who has not read it, but I really think that the main character would have found himself with quite a lot of explaining to do in the circumstances.

Even though I did find these two books disappointing, I did still find parts of them to enjoy and that it why they are both still on my bookshelves and not in the charity shop.  The beginning of Dorian Gray before it descends into incohesiveness is very good.  I like some of the ideas and questions that The Shack raises, and the fact that it does prompt discussion and debate.  I would not rule out reading either of these books in the future, and I may even enjoy them more coming at them with lower expectations.

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Posted on September 10, 2013, in Reading and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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