Thursday, 16 September 2010

Book of the week

At my conference, I asked the amazingly knowledgeable Marilyn from the Norfolk Children's Books Centre to recommend five best recent books. This is the only way to keep up with the hundreds of new books published every year: ask colleagues. I used to do it every time I came to the UK: ask a colleague for a list of five best books, and then go to a large bookshop and ask for the five most popular books. This way I always ended up with ten books. Once I came home with a book called The Northern Lights. I think it became quite famous later.

Marilyn chose five books reflecting the theme of the conference, adolescent novel, among then Forbidden by Tabitha Suzuma. I must admit that I have never read anything by this author. I read 94 of the 417 pages before going to sleep yesterday. (Isn't it revealing that I can read a hundred pages of an adolescent novel in about the same time it takes me to read ten pages of The Magic Mountain or Moby-Dick). On these pages I have encountered so many clichees that I wonder whether the author is trying to win a competition in how much banality you can squeeze into a novel. Dysfunctional family. Absent father. Alcoholic mother who sleeps with every male she can get hold of. Half-autistic teenager with straight As in all subjects. Bullying classmates and stupid teachers. Have you read this before? I have. The back cover promises that the brother and sister fall in love with each other. I have read it before too, about fifteen years ago first time. I am a bit curious how explicit the incest is. It can be portrayed beautifully or disgustingly. But I wonder whether I want to go on reading. It's so profoundly poorly written. What do you give me for "stellar constellations"? There are two first-person narrators, and the alternating chapters are marked with their names, in case the reader doesn't notice. Although, it would be easy not to notice, because there is no difference whatsoever between the voices. I have read it before as well.

This is in no way a criticism of Marilyn. She didn't say it was a good book. She said it was an interesting book. It is my professional duty to read interesting books even when they are bad. It does not happen often that I don't read a book to the end, but I have been doing it more and more often recently. Life is much too short to waste your time on bad books.


Anonymous said...

I've been questioning the wisdom of my research project as I wonder what on earth to say about the many such books like that I read. Please say something inspiringly quotable! Lydia

Maria Nikolajeva said...

I did read the book to the end after all. The misery accumulated. Sex was clinically explicit and boring, and the first penetration was immediately followed by arrest and suicide, so the criminal siblings got their punishment.

The wisdom of your research, Lydia, is to interrogate the lure of sensation and to disclose the hidden ideology, just as you did so brilliantly with Twilight.