So. I read two books in August. That’s not very many, is it? It’s two more than I read in July however, so that’s progress.
One of these books was the one prescribed by my osteopath, She’s Come Undone by Wally Lamb. On Amazon.com, this book has 17 pages of 1-star ‘hate it!’ reviews, many of them quite vicious. Here are a few highlights:
'This may possibly be the worst book I've ever read. The writing is adequate at best... Writing about bad things does not make for great writing. Writing about bad things without some kind of significance to the suffering is immoral.'
'I was utterly sick when I finished with this book. I haven't felt this disturbed since I watched "The Crying Game" in college.'
'It reads like it was written by a somewhat creepy middle aged man pretending to be an angst-ridden teenage girl on the internet.'
'If you have any moral fiber I do not suggest you even open this book. I threw this one in the trash, so no-one else could be inadvertently offended because of my purchase.'
'It is not in the least hyperbolic to state that this is the worst book I have ever read. Lamb completely fails to make his heroine even remotely likeable; she is not even tolerable. Nothing about her story is interesting or compelling.'
'If you're not already clinically depressed, this book may help you get there. It reeks.'
'I have never read such trash in my life. I, like many others, was strung along by all the raving reviews this book received. However, to be quite honest not only is the book depressing, it's depressing that so many people could find the tremendous amount of sorrow the character faces entertaining, let alone someone to be placed on a pedalstool for inspiration.'
Then there's this one:
'Some books make you laugh and/or cry out loud. Not only did this book make me cry (repeatedly) but before I could force myself to finish it I threw it across the room and let it hit the wall with a resounding crash. It IS well written. But it is senseless in its depravity. I felt like it was wallowing in everything that can possibly go wrong in life. So when I cried it was not catharsis, it felt like I had been violated. Like Lamb had penned these sentiments to tear the sorrow out of me and put it on display for no good reason.'
And finally this one:
'You people should be ashamed for enjoying this book any level. This trash is inspired by countless terrible romantic comedies, terrible pulp fiction, and terrible soap opera. I don't feel like I'm speaking with hyperbole when I indict everyone who enjoys this terrible, terrible piece of instant disasterpiece as someone who needs to revise their definition of taste. For shame, you gullible cheesecake-eating stay-at-home inhuman groupthinkers.'
People are funny.
Significantly - thankfully - despite having 17 pages of 1-star reviews, She’s Come Undone still has an average of 4 stars.
When I first started reading it, I wasn’t sure why my osteopath might have prescribed it. I assumed it was because the narrator of the book, Dolores Price, develops a weight problem. I assumed my osteopath had recommended it because he thought it might help me to summon up the discipline or the necessary self-loathing to get my weight down. By the end of it however, I reckoned it was probably because he’d been as moved by it as I was. He's probably recommending it to everyone. I know I am.
She’s Come Undone is a remarkable book. It’s one of those rare books that made me weep just about every time I picked it up, and I have to admit, I like a nice weep. It wasn’t just that I could relate to a lot of it, although I could. It was mostly because it was overflowing with human frailty as well as human strength, and the terrifying truth about what it is to be a human being. Like all good books, like all good anything, it brought home how terrible human beings are, at the same time as remembering how wonderful they can be.
She’s Come Undone is depressing at times, it’s true; heart-breaking even, and Dolores is, at times, extremely difficult to like. But fuck it, aren’t we all? I know I am.
Many of the bad reviews make mention of the fact that there is no redemption, that Dolores’ life does not improve and that she learns nothing. I couldn’t agree with this less. I found the last twenty pages or so some of the most moving I have ever read. So much so that I couldn’t stop weeping. I was moving around the house, reading and weeping in the kitchen as I schlepped back and forth with empty dishes and rice tins, reading and weeping in the loo as I went about my loo business, and finally I finished it beached on my bed. And for a few minutes afterwards I found myself wailing – sobbing, barking and high-pitched whining – and not because I was depressed but because I was filled up with hope for what life can be, against all the odds; and because I was filled up with love.
And while I was whinnying and bleating and making melancholy donkey noises, I heard a tentative knock on my bedroom door. Keith had come home to pick up some of his stuff before his trip to the Lakes. He peeped around the open door with dread on his face. ‘Are you OK?’ he asked.
I told him I was fine, that I’d just finished a book and was merely moved.
He was relieved.
We had a little catch-up and I admitted that I missed him since he’d started spending a lot of time at Tilly’s place. He said he was sorry but also that he was having fun. I told him that of course I was happy for him and that I was sorry for being a downer. He told me we’d definitely spend some time together on his return. I thanked him for his beneficence, slightly sarcastically, and he patted me on the head and told me it wasn’t a problem.
When he left for the Lakes I tidied the rest of the house and readied myself for the next day, the first of September, the first day of the rest of my life.
The other book I read was Dandy in the Underworld by Sebastian Horsley. This book was also depressing, but in an entirely different way. There is no love in this book. And no truth.
If I had to review the book, I would do it in five words. These five:
Feeble and conventional.'
At the end of the book, Horsley teases the reader by pretending that he is going to kill himself, before disappointingly relenting. ‘And so I’ll go on for a bit longer,’ he types. ‘London is not yet tired of my wardrobe, for a start.’
Yes, Sebastian. It is.
Tell me, what books have you read that have made you weep like a willow or an open sore?
Ooh, I've just remembered another one: The Cider House Rules. Killed me.