Why Did I Read This?
In the last two days, I have finished reading two books, both of which were a struggle for me to read. Here’s what they were and why they were a struggle.
The first book was In Memoriam by Alice Winn. I chose to read it because it received excellent reviews. Here, for example, is what The Guardian says about it:
“In Memoriam is at once epic and intimate, humorous and profound, a vivid rendering of the madness and legacy of the first world war as seen through the lens of a schoolboy love affair.”
The book drew me in right away with very good writing and a compelling story. I liked the characters I was meeting, and I enjoyed the setting in an English boarding school just before World War I. I was also very taken by the two main characters. Ellwood and Gaunt.
Once the story moved into wartime, it became a much more difficult story to read and yet, despite the extreme graphic gruesomeness of the descriptions of war, I still enjoyed (maybe that’s the wrong word, but still) the reading. I was captivated by the story, and also felt that I was learning some history.
About midway through the book, there’s a very important traumatic moment. I’m not going to give anything away, I’ll just say that I didn’t like that moment very much. I thought it was a clichéd plot twist and it bothered me so much that I put the book aside and stopped reading it for a few weeks
I was very uncertain as to whether I was going to go back to the book, but I left it around the house. It stared at me, as books do (at least my books do!), and challenged me to return to my reading.
I finally picked it up again since I had already made such an investment in it. But for the next quarter of the book my reading was sporadic. I continued to be bothered by some of the plot twists, and I found the gruesomeness of the war descriptions to be getting more difficult to bear because by this point, they were unremitting. Of course they were accurate in reflecting the brutality and stupendous loss of life during World War I, and the author clearly did her research into not just the fact that much death happened, but exactly how it happened, down to every possible permutation of how a body can be mangled and destroyed.
However, I persevered, slowly. And last night I finished the book. Hurrah!
And you know what? It’s really a terrific book. Wonderful storytelling, tremendous historical detail, and characters who truly remain compelling until the end because they are so well drawn. They’re deep and complex and interesting. I think that Ellwood and Gaunt will stay with me for a long time.
Kudos to you, Alice Winn! This is quite a book! A good partner, I think, with Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life.
The second book I started last week is The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo.
This choice probably falls more under the category of research. This is an incredibly popular book, and over the years, we have sold hundreds, maybe thousands, of them at my store. I thought it was time to find out what it was all about. Also, I read and very much enjoyed one of the author’s other books, Daisy Jones and the Six. So I read it.
Kind of wish I hadn’t.
Taylor Jenkins Reid, you are a publishing phenomenon, and you most certainly do not need my editorial advice. But were you to take it, this is what I would say: go through your books and excise every cliché. Just that. It would help so much.
And btw, Taylor, as long as we’re talking (ha), did you notice that every time you have Evelyn laugh, she doesn’t just laugh, she “throws back her head and laughs.” Every single time. Even in bed. How do you even do that?
As for the plot, well, I got bored after husband number four. Does she really have to marry them all, I thought? Can’t she make her point by just having a relationship with them? It got tired for me.
So why did I read it? You’re asking me that, I assume, and I’m definitely asking me that. Why did I stay up late so many nights in a row reading it. (I wanted to finish it quickly.)
Because she did one thing really well. She hinted that there was a reason that Evelyn connected with Monique. And I really wanted to know what that reason was. I had a guess, and I wanted to know if I was right. I wasn’t. I did not guess what the connection was. She surprised me. That part was good.
My conclusion: she’s a good storyteller. Just not a good writer. Oops, sorry. Don’t mind me. Millions of people disagree with me and she’s a bestselling author, so there you have it.