I normally like to write about books I love – those that have moved me in some way, made me laugh, or think deeply. However today I thought I’d do something different and talk about the books I’ve hated so much that they have been unceremoniously hurled across the room when I’ve finished reading them.
I’ve always struggled to articulate exactly why I love the books that I do – it’s difficult to describe things positively without sounding insufferably sentimental or fawning. Also, you run the risk of ridicule when you share something you care about so much to the world – what if everyone disagrees, or even worse, laughs at you?
Zadie Smith tackled this head on in her wonderful book of essays, Changing My Mind. Talking about the process of writing it, she described how much easier it is to creatively destroy something – whether it’s a book, film, TV show or work of art – that you feel deep, passionate loathing for, than the reverse – to publically celebrate something you cherish.
Some of the greatest, most articulate works of criticism have been gloriously negative about their subjects – when done well, a good slagging off can be immensely enjoyable to write and to read. Zoe Heller won the Hatchet Job of the Year award for her searing review of Salman Rushdie’s Joseph Anton in the New York Times which strayed delightful close to character assassination but never quite stepped over the line.
So I’m indulging myself and sharing the books I love to loathe. Normal service will be resumed next week. I never actually throw books away – they just sit malignantly on the shelf, making me seethe every time I look at them. Why am I such a masochist? Anyway, at least it made it easy for me to quickly scan my bookshelves to bring you five of my own personal ‘hurlers’. Are you ready for some bookish blasphemy? Then I’ll begin...
The Member of the Wedding, Carson McCullers
I normally love ol’ Carson – perversely, one of her other novels, The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter, is one of my all-time favourites. But the protagonist of The Member of the Wedding is a whiny, pretentious, self-obsessed adolescent girl (aren’t they all?) who does herself no favours by making her elder brother’s wedding all about her. Even when her little cousin John Henry West dies of meningitis (there, I’ve spoiled it for you – now you have another reason not to read it), we still get more of the insufferable Frankie. She’s like Scout from To Kill A Mockingbird’s evil twin.
Strangers On A Train, Patricia Highsmith
I don’t like ‘crime’ novels where you know who the murderer is from the start, just like in Columbo. Strangers is similar to Highsmith’s famous Ripley stories where we are allowed inside the warped mind of the criminal and it’s all so psychological. Call me a Luddite but I prefer a good ol’ whodunit – this just reads like showing off. Don’t try to make me empathise with a murderer Patricia, I don’t want to!
Ethan Frome, Edith Wharton
Wharton is one of my favourite authors – just a few lines of The House of Mirth or The Age of Innocence feels like putting your brain in a pencil sharpener (a good thing) but I defy anyone to get an ounce of enjoyment out of Ethan sodding Frome. It is the single most bleak, depressing novel I have ever read, involving a dreary, vaguely incestuous love triangle, a hideous accident and an empty, grey, snowbound landscape that goes on and on and on.
The Edible Woman, Margaret Attwood
I know this is a seminal feminist text but the heroine/narrator is so irritating that I just can’t get past that to appreciate the important messages about female subjugation and the complex relationships with food, the body and all that jazz. That bit when she makes the cake in the shape of a woman and then eats it? Just. Plain. Annoying.
The Slap, Christos Tsiolkas
This was one of my book club reads and it was almost unanimously hated by every single member. It’s quite an impressive feat to write a novel that doesn’t contain a single sympathetic character, especially one that’s 500 interminable pages long. I got so much pleasure chucking this across the room – it bounced beautifully.
So I’ve shown you mine, now it’s your turn! Have I inadvertently insulted one of your all-time favourite works of fiction? Are you a book-thrower or does my hooliganism make you wince? Share!