Thursday, 4 September 2008

Two Books

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, 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.'

A pedalstool!

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:

'Interminably dull.

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.

And you?

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Anonymous said...

I also LOVED 'She's Come Undone' and wept heartily as I read the ending. It's one of those books that makes you want to stroke it when you walk past it in bookstores. And I agree - there are sentiments in that book that we can all relate to, if not the terrible events themselves.

Have you read Wally Lamb's second book? I'm about to start it and have no idea of what to expect.

- Melissa

Mira Manga said...

Did you do your stretches tho?!

Bruce Anderson said...

I read "she's come undone" about 5 years ago and I loved it as well. Poor Dolores, but I felt like she had learned something in the end. I have read "i know this much is true" but I didn't like it. oh well.
I have a great book recommendation "dogs of babel" by Carolyn Parkhurst. Highly recommend it.

Anonymous said...

"I finished it beached on my bed."

It conjures up the image of a whale on the shore that's unable to move it's masive body back into the boyant ocean. Really, Bete- you must work on your self image issues.

I'm glad this book moved you. That, it filled you with hope and love, perhaps now, you can spare some of those feelings for yourself.

Since you're reccommending it, I'll check it out.

In the meantime, I hope you and Not-Keith have some Bro bonding soon.

La Bête said...

Hi, Melissa. No, I've not read his second book yet. I bought it yesterday though, so hopefully it'll be sitting in my lap soon.

Hey, 'Loks. Yep. I've been really good this week.

OJL, thanks for the recommendation. I'll look out for it. And of course, I should have asked for recommendations in the post, shouldn't I? Silly me. Interactivity is all. I'll fix that right away.

Oh, Selena, you are a sweet one. But I wasn't really being down on myself. Not entirely. Rather, whales are a motif in the book and I was actually being ever so slightly clever. Thank you though. And bless you.

Anonymous said...

I loved the cider house rules - a very good book which made me sob too!

Anonymous said...

One of the highest forms of courage is the ability to face ones own negativity without feeling guilty or bad about themselves, and then taking responsibility for changing it.

You are an example of that.

I'll read the book too.

Anonymous said...

The first book that made me weep was "Cry the Beloved Country".

Anonymous said...

The 1st book that made me cry, yet filled me with love and hope was, "A Rainbow of My Own" by Don Freeman.

Looking back, I this could have had something to do with the fact that I was 4 or 5 years old when I read it. ;-)

Mrs. Hall said...

I can't help but take the post previous to this a little personally. I am health care provider in the situation you described.

NO, no the actually osteopath, but a health care provider who deals with patients everyday who feel no impetus to change anything and I am there watching their health get sicker and sicker.

So what are we, health care providers, to do? How can we motivate patients?

Being angry and yelling, being terse and short does not seem to motivate people.

We can completely take over most aspects of their car. But that is no good. People deserve to help themselves, not be reduced to children.

Figuring out what the goals are for the patient, when they originate from the patient, helps a little.

It is a conundrum. And it irritates me a little.

I mean, we health care people are here to help you patient people achieve health. Help us help you. Do the effing stretching exercises.

hmm... ah forget it.

When you are ready, drop me a line and I can help you lose the habits that keep you from achieving superman status.

Did this book help you?

Mrs. Hall

Anonymous said...

The Time Traveler's Wife

La Bête said...

Hey. You guys. I'm drunk. I had a surprise visit this evening and I 've taken a few ales. BUt that doesn't take away from th fact that I genuinely love you all. Jen, anonymous, Andy, Selena (sweet thing), Mrs Hall and Lauren, I love you all and will be more compass Mendez in the morning- or maybe the afternoon. Be gentle, sweet Nobles. I smile upon thee.


Anonymous said...

"The Myth of You and Me." It's about girls' friendships, and I was a teenage girl once, but I think it would make anyone who's been close to anyone cry.


Anonymous said...

Just one x for all of us? is simply not enough to be shared ;-)

HA HA, my hat's off to you for getting drunk and sentimental on a Thursday.

You're digital smile, "comforteth like sunshine after rain."

Now, I'm off to my home- perhaps, to follow in your example.

Timorous Beastie said...

It didn't make me cry, but I'd recommend We Need to Talk About Kevin (Lionel Shriver), for it's lack of schmaltz, lack of redemption, and lack of cliched easy answers. And we love you too.

Tim Footman said...

Weepies? Charlotte's Web, obviously. I mean, duh.

Ethel and Ernest (Raymond Briggs) and Goodbye Mog (Judith Kerr) as well.

On a slightly more grown-up basis:

South of the Border, West of the Sun (Haruki Murakami, lost love);

Windows on the World (Frederic Beigbeder (death and 9/11, but without the schmaltz or sabre-rattling);

English Passengers (Matthew Kneale, imperial injustice, although there's an uproarious pay-off at the end). Kneale is Judith Kerr's son, which may or may not be interesting.

Runaround Sue said...

Try 'I know this much is true' by Wally Lamb, I couldn't put it down.

I cry every time I read Charlotte Sometimes. Yes, it is written for 10 year olds, and I've been crying at it regularly since I was 10, but it's fantastic. The time traveller's wife is another good one for a cry.

Happy reading. Or should that be weepy reading?

Anonymous said...

The Cider House Rules is certainly a wonderful book, but did it really make you weep more that Garp, or Owen Meany?

Anne Tyler's novels are incredibly moving, though not necessarily weepy.

I agree with Timorous Beastie regarding We Need To Talk About Kevin, but have been reluctant to recommend it since seeing Lionel Shriver on Newsnight Review. She wore elbow length black gloves, waved her arms around a lot and somehow struck me as a bit of a fraud. Great book though.

Anonymous said...

I hosted a kids' book group once, in America, and they had chosen The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate Dicamillo, about a vain porecelain rabbit who falls overboard an oceanliner and into lots of character-building adventures.

Broken physically, but emotionally edified, he is re-united many years later with the little girl whose unconditional love he undervalued as a young bunny. Holy cow, I'm flooding the keyboard writing about it(sorry if that's a painful reference for you).

Genuine bulbous tears were forced out of my adult eyes on the last page of this book. I had to be wheeled out from the group of 7 year olds shouting, 'Doesn't redemption mean anything to you, you wretched snivelling brats?'

Heidi said...

I'm late to this one, but I thought I would add that I also liked 'she's come undone'. I read it ages ago and while it was horribly sad I really enjoyed it.
As for books that make me cry I think almost every other book I read makes me cry... all in varying degrees though. Some are just a worth a tear. Others require weeping.

Newbie said...

The Book Thief made me make screechy in and out donkey noises for about the last 50 pages. It's really really beautiful.

Must agree about We Need to Talk About Kevin too, great great book!

Am now trying to get my mits on a copy of She's Come Undone...

Anonymous said...

Hurrah, my She's Come Undone arrived today so will soon be reading and possibly weeping. I even got 4p off so I'm rather pleased with my purchase. I bet there's been a mass demand for the book all of a sudden. All because of your good self. Hope Brighton is fun.

La Bête said...

Thank you all for your contributions here. I am making a list.

Hope you enjoy it, Aiko.

Anonymous said...

When I was younger I cried at most books I read... especially the Redwall series by Brian Jacques. All these noble woodland creatures dying for a good cause...

More recently, I've read fewer books, but the one that did make me cry was The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini. I'd avoided it because it had been so hyped but I read it and thought it totally deserved it. I had to keep putting it down because what was happening was too painful to read about. The writing is so unselfconsciously believable I convinced this story did happen, to somebody, somewhere. It's an amazing book, and I heartily recommend it if you haven't read it already.

Anonymous said...

Well, whilst waiting for calls from the lonely and despairing people of the night, I finished She's Come Undone at 4am this morning. Tried not to cry out loud as my colleague was only a few feet away, but then she realised what I was reading and almost burst into tears whilst we talked about it. It got me in the right mood for the calls I had I must say. Good recommendation Bete, I think I shall buy Wally's other book too. He also has a new book that's to be released in Novemeber, ooohhhh.

La Bête said...

Excellent. I'm very pleased it moved you. Huzzah for books and weeping!

Anonymous said...

Hated 'She's Come Undone', and agreed with most of the negative comments posted on Amazon. More for the writing than for the content. I did feel there was redemption, though, and the ending was nice. The scenes from the book still stick in my head, though, and I read it about 6 years ago. 'Charlotte's Web', 'One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest' - yes, those are weepies. I have avoided 'The Kite Runner' as I know it will be gut-wrenchingly sad. And, yes, did you do your stretches? I guess I will find out as I read the rest of the archive.