Sometimes I start reading a book and after fifty or so pages I put it down. This could be for any number of reasons. I might not be in the mood for whatever subject or style the book is covering. Or the writing might not be very good. Or it just might not be speaking to me at that point in time. Usually I’ll put these books aside and won’t bother writing on this blog about them. They might be for someone else. I’d rather spend time writing about books that are really worthwhile and that I want to recommend. However, in the case of these two books I became very frustrated. I think both authors are good writers or have the potential to be good writers, but they make some unfortunate choices in these novels which make them unsuccessful on the whole. I also wanted to offer up a different perspective on books I’ve been reading so it doesn’t come across like I love everything I read.
In the case of “The Quick” the novel begins fantastically. It’s Victorian England and two children are practically left on their own in a dilapidated country estate. They spend their time playing games and exploring the library. It’s beautifully told completely immersing you in the strange spooky environment these curious children find themselves in. I was hooked. Then it moves further in time and takes an unexpected twisted when the boy turns into a young man first taking up residence in London. I was less convinced by this but stuck with it. Then an infamous twist comes along. I was thrown way out of the story, but kept going until half way through the book. To be clear, I’m not opposed to the supernatural. Unfortunately, the author relies on tedious genre elements and doesn’t do anything inventive enough to carry her characters through a plot that feels suspenseful or compelling. Owen is clearly a talented writer, but I think she made a major misstep and should have continued writing a whole novel about the first section.
“The Rise and Fall of Great Powers” also begins very well. Two quirky characters pass a day working in a used bookshop barely selling anything. The protagonist Tooly, who owns the bookshop, tries not to let her chatty loopy colleague get on her nerves while she attempts to read a biography about Anne Boleyn. It’s an excellent set up and I would have loved to read a novel mostly set here. The book then carries on to mine through Tooly’s past and the reasons that led her to this place. I wouldn’t have minded the author leaping around the past, but much of the language and persistent literary references come across as pretentious. Again, I think this book had a lot of potential and the author is talented, but he gets in the way of himself too often. I could only read half of the book before the style became too much for me.
I’ve read positive reviews for both of these books and it’s only because they’ve been so lauded elsewhere that I feel like they can take this kind of criticism. I would gladly try reading another book by these authors as I’m sure they are capable of great writing.
Have you read either of these books?
Did you like them? I’d love to hear arguments as to why they worked for you.
Are there other books you’ve tried reading recently which had great potential or that have been really hyped, but didn’t work for you?