Abandoned Book: Diary of a Bad Year
Occasionally, I’ll feature here a book that ne’er made it to the glorious review pile but rather ended up in the forlorn and dusty abandoned pile.
Today’s spotlighted abandoned book: Diary of a Bad Year, by J.M. Coetzee
Fascinating structure this book had. Each page is divided into two or three sections. The top section contains excerpts from an essay collection the main character, Senor C, a famous author, is working on. The next section contains Senor C’s musings, mostly about Anya, a woman who lives in his apartment complex. The third section contains Anya’s musings, mostly about Senor C and her boyfriend Alan.
I had no idea that the book was structured this way when I first picked it up. It was on display at the library; I had seen it mentioned on a few blogs; and I checked it out. I made it about halfway through. Then it was due back, and I wasn’t interested enough to continue with it. Senor C is clearly Coetzee, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2003. The page structure was cool at first, but ultimately just distracting. None of the characters were given enough depth in the truncated time they received. I didn’t care how their story arcs turned out. The writing was just fine. I liked the writing in the essays best, it seemed to be the most relaxed and flowing. I don’t think I grasped a major theme – part of my reluctance to finish.
I didn’t hate the book. I just don’t have any desire to finish it. None. (Except the little voice in my head that doesn’t like it when I don’t finish something.)
This week’s Weekly Geeks has really spawned some great discussions around this here blogosphere. Two comments posted on my Weekly Geeks #12 post in fact spawned this post. The comments and my responses:
Becky at Becky’s Book Reviews asked, “how do you know (or do you know) when it’s you and not the book. Or to phrase that the other way, how do you know when it’s the book and not you…”
I think book abandonment is usually a combination of the reader and the writer. I book I can’t finish may be another reader’s favorite book. However, I can tell when it’s mostly me because (1) I want to try it again and (2) I can get through it on subsequent attempts. I can tell when it’s mostly the writer/book because (1) I have no desire to try it again and (2) I don’t make subsequent attempts.
Joy at Joystory posed these questions: “I’m interested in the technique and art of storytelling itself so anything along that line would interest me. And since your list is of books you didn’t finish you could address whether the author’s mishandling of technique played any role. My questions are for any or all of the fiction titles in your list:
How was Point-of-View handled? Was there a single POV character or did it alternate among two or more. Was it always clear whose eyes and mind were filtering? How was language used to set tone and mood? Was the prose dense or spare? Were sentences generally simple or complex? How was metaphor used? Were associations fresh or did they tend toward cliche? Did they add to your understanding of the theme? What was the central or organizing theme? How does the title relate to the story? Was it fitting?”
Most of the questions are answered above. In the end, I think, in the case of Diary of a Bad Year, the author tried a form of storytelling that just fell flat for me. Have you read this book? If so, did you like it? Do you think I should finish it? If not, is the structure something that encourages you to or discourages you from reading it?