Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Books that the world adores but I don't

You finally get your hands on that great, classic book, that masterpiece that has left its mark on the world of literature, and you've decided to read it because a) everyone around you has been urging you to read because it's so amazing, or b) you feel you must acquaint yourself with it in order to respect yourself as a civilized human being. When you turn the first page, you feel so happy, embarking on this great adventure that will surely affect your views of the world...

... but sometimes, it ends with you reaching the last page and then slamming shut the back cover with nothing but... emptiness... on your mind. Then you start to wonder why you feel so empty, and then you get a little (or a little more) annoyed at the book in your hands for not fulfilling its promise of being fantastic. Finally, you try to decide whether the world around you is off its rocker for revering this book so highly, or if it's your brain that's been set wrong. Either way, you simply find yourself feeling completely indifferent, or even downright negative, towards a work of literature that you were "supposed to like".

As you might have guessed already, I'm now going to share my most prominent experiences of being unsatisfied with world-renowned classics. Warning: there will be, obviously, opinions very much against these great works of literature, expressed with shameless honesty (but with only moderate brutality, I hope), and even (Le Gasp!) a suggestion that the film version might be better than the book. And remember, if you happen to like or even love one of these books, it's completely fine with me. That's the point of opinions, it's okay if they are different.

So, let's get on with it – ladies and gentlemen, my list of books that I was supposed to like... but didn't!

Charlotte Brontë: Jane Eyre

Alright, I'm starting with a really tricky one – by which I mean that this book is bound to have kazillions of defenders who are dreadfully appalled that I'm questioning its position as a much-loved classic. Well, let me explain some things. Firstly, I'm actually not saying that any of the books in this list don't deserve to be named as great classics. I can honestly see how Jane Eyre has affected perceptions of literature, and I understand why it is appealing to so many readers. Which brings me to my second point: I really like some things about this book myself. I like to read how Jane and Rochester's relationship develops, and I like to see Jane overcoming her obstacles and finding her happiness. But I'm the wrong kind of person to enjoy this gothic, melodramatic style. I find myself holding back laughter when Mr Rochester makes his dramatic first appearance and rolling my eyes at his mad wife floating around the house at night. Still, I'm a little tempted to maybe give Jane Eyre another try someday.

Louisa May Alcott: Little Women (including the second volume)

Something curious happened with this book. I can't remember how old I was when I read it for the first time, but anyway, I liked it alright. Then I read it again at high school age – and that seemingly innocent little novel almost suffocated me. So, Jo March is supposed to be running the frontier of independent, free-spirited female characters – so why, each time I read her story, is there always this little, smug know-it-all voice in my ear tutting at how very silly and far-fetched Jo's dream of becoming a great author is? It always seems to me that Meg and Beth, the eventual homebody sisters who spend their days sewing and waving dish towels, are what the book actually wants to push forward as the ideal model of a "little woman"! This is the dreaded part where I say the film version of 1994 is more enjoyable to me than the book, because it focuses more on the relationships between the sisters and their mother, and less on preaching what good little women should and shouldn't do.

Paulo Coelho: The Alchemist

This is not a novel, it's a novel-length string of aphorisms. It's the result of a billion-dollar bet on "how many lofty ideas of the meaning of life can you fit into 175 pages?" (Alright, I made that up because I'm in a particularly witty mood today.) There's an Andalusian shepherd boy who has a dream, and after taking advice from some mysterious characters he ends up crossing North Africa. And three-quarters into the book, it becomes painfully obvious how his journey is going to end... Or maybe that was just me. I am aware that The Alchemist was not written to be a thrilling adventure story, but honestly, all those characters sprouting out metaphysical musings just gets on my nerves.

Mika Waltari: The Egyptian (originally Sinuhe egyptiläinen)

This is a work of literature that I should particularly appreciate as a Finn – and I do, in some ways. The writer, Mika Waltari, lived in the early 1900s and belonged to a society of authors who strove to bring more European influence into the Finnish arts, and while he was an incredibly productive writer, The Egyptian is definitely one of his best-known works – it was even made into a Hollywood film in 1954, how often has that happened to a Finnish novel?! The novel is widely praised for its accurate depiction of Ancient Egypt, and that I can agree to – the reader also gets to see more of the Ancient world as the main character, Sinuhe, goes on a road trip of sorts. That part I actually liked. What I didn't like at all was Sinuhe himself. God, how could he be so dumb and annoying? Also, the ending of this book leaves a kind of horrible, empty feeling in my mind which I hate.

Gustave Flaubert: Madame Bovary

So I thought Sinuhe the Egyptian was the most exhausting main character ever... until I met Emma Bovary. I read this one in high school, when we had to pick one out of a list of books that had been considered scandalous at the time they were published. I can definitely see why Madame Bovary was shocking back in 1856 – you see, Emma Bovary marries a dull doctor, realizes that her married life isn't looking like she imagined in her glittering dreams, and finds excitement by making frequent escapes to the attractions of the city and (Le Gasp!) having two different lovers. I have never, never, never wished so badly that the main character could somehow be... got rid of. If this hadn't been a compulsory read for school, I probably wouldn't have bothered to finish it.

Am I a horrible person for not liking these great classics? Have you ever had similar experiences? Tell me about all the well-known books that disappointed you!


  1. Nope. You're not a horrible person for not liking these books and you didn't even say anything that bad about them. I've said much worse about books that I haven't liked! Er, let me think, some well-known books that have disappointed me...

    'Atonement' by Ian McEwan - Two of my closest friends really like this book but I hated it. The characters and Ian McEwan's writing bored me to tears. I'd planned to see the film adaptation after reading the book but I just couldn't bring myself to.

    'Wicked' by Gregory Maguire - I came to this book after seeing the musical, which I adore, and I couldn't have been more disappointed. The plot was dull, the characters were horrible, and the writing was full of weird and horrible sexual references. At one point the characters are travelling through a pass between some "erotic" mountains and Maguire compares it a woman's open legs. Wtf?!

    Other well-known books that I've disliked have been Heart of Darkness, Wide Sargasso Sea and Frankenstein (I love the National Theatre production though!)

    This post is reminding me of why I read the classics so much. Classics very rarely disappoint me and modern books, even modern classics, frequently do.

    1. Oh yes, I loved your rant about Atonement :D

    2. Really?! I get embarrassed when I read that one. I think it makes me sound psychotic!