Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Failing the 50 Page Test

I used to try and finish every book that I started but these days I am so swamped with things that must be read, should be read, are long overdue to be read and cry out to be read, that I have developed my 50 page rule.

If the book hasn't grabbed me within 50 pages then I put it down and let it go. This is a major achievement for me. I'm the sort of person who once I've started to watch a film, can't stop. Even if I can tell where it's going and I can't stand the acting/script/direction, I will watch a film to the end just to see if I'm right about it. I used to be like that with books too. I would drag myself through the most turgid prose and ridiculous plot right to the bitter end. Of course there are books with which I can't do that. If I'm reviewing a book I will read all of it. Sometimes I will have to read all of it in a vain attempt to find something positive to say about a book. To write a review I need to have read the whole book or I'm not giving it a fair review. And sometimes it's not the fault of the book - it's just not the right book for my frame of mind at that moment. These books, while they do get put down, usually get picked up again further down the line somewhere. But in general, so many books pass through my life that I just don't have the time / energy/ will to read dull or ludicrous or badly written books. So I don't.

Here are a couple of examples of books which failed my 50 page test recently.

Too Close to Home by Linwood Barclay. I liked Linwood Barclay's first book No Time for Goodbye, the premise for which was "What if you came home from school and your family had gone?" I liked the characters of the woman who's family disappeared when she was a girl. I liked the way Barclay dealt with some of the issues this brought up for the woman. And I didn't think it was at all badly written. The premise for this one is "What if your neighbours get murdered and you find out that the killers went to the wrong house?" I just couldn't get into this one. There didn't seem to be any subtlety about the way it was constructed. Details that were obviously important to the plot were telegraphed in such a way that they seemed to just leap off the page. I just couldn't continue with it, though I did persevere for about 100 pages to give it a fair trial.

The other book that was a fail for me was Great House by Nicole Krauss. Now this book is getting great reviews all over the web and
in the papers so this is probably just me. I liked the idea - this is a multi-stand story about a woman in New York, a man in London and an antique dealer in Jerusalem. All the stories are linked by a desk which we hear about first with the woman in New York. Back in the 1970s she spends the night with a Chilean poet, who asks her to look after his desk for him. He then goes back to Chile where he is arrested by Pinochet's secret police and never heard from again. So far so good. I like the idea of the desk linking the stories. As someone who has worked with antiques on a minor scale this is an idea I've pondered from time to time - how a piece of furniture or an object has an importance in or influence on people's lives far and beyond it's importance as an object. I liked the Chilean poet though we only met him briefly, but the woman was horribly self-obssessed and I really didn't want to spend any time in her company. I'm not entirely sure that I managed 50 pages. She's supposed to be looking after the desk for the poet but when his daughter turns up to claim it all she can think about is how she can keep the desk. Now that I've savaged it this book will probably win the Booker prize - it's one of those books. Some people obviously love it. I just hated it.

Do you have a 50 page, or a 100 page rule? And what's failed your test recently?

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