There are very few books that I have actually hated. There are some that haven’t captured me, or that I’ve struggled to get through, but I usually find something to like about them. It is rare that I actually hate a book.
There is one book that I read and despised so much that I couldn’t actually bear to have it on my bookshelves and so the instant I finished it (and I really don’t know what possessed me to force my way to the end), I took it straight to the charity shop. The only trouble is, I can’t remember what it is called.
Here is what I do remember – it was some creepy ghost story set in small town America. The main character was a male and he was either having marital problems or his wife was just away in business/holiday. For whatever reason, he was in their new house alone and his life started to fall apart as a result of the fact that his house turned out to be haunted. In the process of finding out about this ghost, he developed a completely inappropriate relationship with the pregnant teenage daughter of his next door neighbours and some very, very weird things happened when he eventually saw this ghost.
If anyone knows what book I’m on about, please let me know so I can avoid ever reading it again.
I don’t think I can really answer this question by writing about a book that I can’t remember the name of, but there is another book that I really did not like at all:-
The Return by Victoria Hislop
I was so very disappointed by this book as I really enjoy books set in other countries, particularly if they have a historical element and I can learn about something I knew nothing of before. The Return ticks so many of these boxes as it tells the story of the Ramirez family in Granada during the Spanish Civil War.
Here are my issues with The Return:-
1. The split time narrative
I have already talked about this in a previous post as being a much overused plot device. The Return is a classic example of everything that I hate about it. Rather than just telling the story of the Ramirez family in the Spanish Civil War, Hislop uses the modern character of Sonia as her way into the story, when she gets talking to a waiter in Granada that tells her the Ramirez story. I found Sonia utterly pointless – I didn’t care about her relationship or her obsession with flamenco dancing or the weird connection she felt with the waiter. Sonia’s story was just filler for me and took away from the much more interesting story about the war.
2. Too many coincidences
Use of coincidence is another one of my least favourite plot devices. It is all too convenient that out of all of the cafes in Granada, Sonia just happens to end up in the one that was run by the Ramirez family (who she doesn’t realise until later are actually her mother’s family) and that she gets talking to someone who happens to know their whole story.
3. Underdeveloped clichéd characters
I read the book without feeling I ever got to know any of the characters truly, because they were all so superficial and they were such clichés. Sonia’s friend Maggie was the carefree girl who would dance and drink and have casual sex and be ready to throw herself into any opportunity, whilst Sonia was more serious and reserved and cautious. Then there is the Ramirez family with flighty and passionate Mercedes, the protective older brother Antonio, another brother who is an arrogant matador, who clashes with the thid brother who is a serious and intellectual.
4. Too much telling
The rule of “show don’t tell” is pretty much the the first rule that is spouted in creative writing textbooks, writing classes and courses. This book does an awful lot of telling, and it is really frustrating and seems to create a lot of distance between me as a reader and the characters that Victoria Hislop is trying to describe. She is writing in the third person and switches between characters very quickly which is quite unsettling.
5. The ending
For anyone not wanting to read spoilers, stop here.
The ending is just awful. Sonia finds out that the old waiter she has been talking to is her mother’s old lover Javier who has been running her mother’s family restaurant since the end of the civil war. He feels he should rightfully pass this over to Sonia, who is conveniently given an escape from her unhappy marriage to a controlling alcoholic.
If only real life were like that. I’m still waiting to go on the holiday where I come back with the keys to a successful business and new life free of charge.
For all that I don’t like about The Return (and there is a lot), I can still be positive about some aspects of it. Some of the writing about the war is quite good. There is one particular scene which describes planes firing upon a line of refugees that really sticks out in my mind. If the modern story was entirely jettisoned, then I think I might be able to get past my issues with the characterisation and writing to quite enjoy the book.