I came across an interesting category on the LibraryThing's Top 5 Books of the Year lists: Dishonorable Mentions. While this may seem churlish on the face of it, it's still a worthwhile endeavor. What makes us dislike a book so many others have loved? Is it even possible to know? Still, this is my attempt to do just that, and I forthwith hand out the Eh? Awards.
A State of Freedom by Neel Mukherjee: Rather than a novel, this a set of five long stories. I don't remember now if they are linked in any way, but I think they aren't. What I do remember is that the first story ended abruptly, almost rudely. The second one meandered along, seeming to take an unusual direction, then at the end I was left asking what the point was. And of the remaining, one was frankly a real slog. About a poor man who sets off to make money via a tamed, dancing bear, it was a long relentless jag of abject misery. I was left wondering if I judge Indian authors more harshly than other ones, but even if that were the case, I am baffled by Mukherjee's entire effort.
The Afterlives by Thomas Pierce: This one had an interesting premise as the title suggests. However, it gets bogged down in the telling. It felt like the author had a bunch of good and worthy ideas that he then didn't know how to tie together; they just hung there dejectedly among the flat and ordinary characters, waiting to come to life themselves. As it progressed I fully skipped the part about a dog- imagine me skipping the DOG part- and in the end cared not a whit about what happened. Still, I hope Pierce keeps at it. Heck, why not just pick up the manuscript of The Afterlives and go after it with a red pen and a
glass bottle of wine for courage?
The Man in the High Castle by Philip K Dick: My first by this much-feted author. The premise was wildly exciting- Germany wins WWII and rules the world, neatly dividing the US into German and Japanese domains. But again, the characters seemed disconnected from this reality, somehow. There was a whole skein of detail about some strange jewelry business and not enough about anything else. The narrative tone was disjointed in that some sections were written in an odd Japanese sort of style but abruptly, others were not. Then there were random stream-of-consciousness bits. In the end, I did not get what happened. What a frustrating read! This is considered a great classic. But for me it was almost totally inaccessible.
Under the Skin by Michael Faber: Shudder. Yes, this was a paean to vegetarianism. Yes, it did in fact make you feel the horror of the meat industry. The central woman was even intriguing at times. Yet, that is all there is: unrelenting ick. Why, Faber, did you feel the need to write like this? Not a single redeeming factor in the entire pitiless thing. Sigh. I read through despondently because I was trapped on the world's longest flight, but I'm still sure that that mind-warp was not the cause of my misery. Faber was.
The Yoga of Max's Discontent by Karan Bajaj: I picked this up despite the title giving me a case of the WTFs. The first few pages I was thankful that I was giving it a chance, then that feeling dissipated as our Max arrives in India. In the Himalayas, no less, because he wants to discover the extreme yogis who live and meditate in the unreachable heights, achieving impossible feats due to their mastery of the mind-body-soul connection that high yogis practice. With this as the theme and the world's mightiest mountains as physical backdrop, nothing worked for me. I flipped on speedily and when I read the last words, didn't feel anything had been missed by skipping the entire middle portion.
Still, as long as I don't get my hopes in a lather before I pick up a book, things are generally not so bleak. I do usually manage that feat but I also hope that at the end of 2019 I will have so few doozies that I won't be able to make this list at all.