Books That Disappointed Me

I wrote a post a while ago about the books I never finished but I have also read quite a few books I may as well not have finished.  Amongst these, there were some that I had particularly high hopes for yet they turned out to be not what I was expecting at all – and not in a good way.  Here is my list of my biggest literary disappointments:

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

I read Love in the Time of Cholera and really enjoyed it so I was looking forward to reading One Hundred Years of Solitude.  But why oh why oh WHY did all the characters have to have almost the exact same names across the generations?!  Not knowing who was who really hindered my enjoyment of the book which was otherwise beautifully written.  I might be willing to try it again someday but only when I have developed supreme powers of concentration and the ability to decipher a Colombian family tree.

The Gathering by Anne Enright

I have read quite a few of the Booker Prize winners and nominees but ‘The Gathering’ one has got to be among the least memorable. Grief and bereavement are difficult subjects to write about in that it can be hard to get the emotional balance just right but I thought that this book was all atmosphere with no substance.  A very tedious read.

Amsterdam by Ian McEwan

I am still puzzled by why ‘Amsterdam’ actually won the Booker Prize given that Ian McEwan’s other five Booker Prize-nominated novels were all far superior, especially ‘Atonement’ and ‘Saturday’.  I have read almost all of Ian McEwan’s books and have found all of them affecting in some way except for this one which left me a bit cold.  No wonder people say that literary awards are meaningless.  In this case, it was given to the right person for the wrong book.

The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen

I am quite a fast reader but this book took me a long time to finish.  I won’t deny that Franzen makes some brilliant observations about human beings and relationships in ‘The Corrections’, but I didn’t think it was a brilliant book.  At first, I thought the problem was simply that it was just too long and should have been about 400 pages rather than 650 pages long.  However, I don’t think that cutting down the amount of text would have made the characters any more likeable or the book generally any more readable.

Which novels disappointed you?

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22 Comments

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22 responses to “Books That Disappointed Me

  1. Kathy J

    Well, following along on the Franzen theme … I actually really liked “The Corrections” but then I tried to read “Freedom” and thought the whole thing was a bunch of pretentious drivel.

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  2. 100 Years of Solitude was so crazy. I know magical realism is a respectable genre… But I started getting punchy and giggling when all the illegitimate sons had their ash crosses emblazoned on their foreheads…

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  3. Hmmm … we’ll, the brilliant and very funny combinations and permutations on the limited names in 100 Years represented the metaphorical insularity of the village (maybe you were suppose to get confused?); Saturday sucked the big one and Atonement was overrated and I have never understood why McEwan is considered such an important writer when nothing he has written seems to break away from either exploitation or just popular writing for money; The Corrections received more recognition than it deserved for its flawed narrative.

    What seems a more interesting question is whether upsetting a potential reader’s expectation makes any difference to a consideration of the quality or value of a literary work? Is a novel disappointing because it isn’t what you expected or is it disappointing because it was poorly written?

    And finally: my most disappointing book is any novel by Ernest Hemingway after The Sun Also Rises with an extra deep hole for the internment of The Old Man and the Sea.

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  4. I really enjoyed One Hundred Years of Solitude and my husband hated it! I own The Gathering and haven’t read it yet. Wonder if I should get to it of forget it? Love Ian McEwan! Enjoyed Atonement and Saturday but haven’t read Amsterdam. This is why prizes are so complex. Avid readers are rarely in accord with the novels that are chosen to win. I say read the short-listed ones for comfort.

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  5. I agree with you on The Corrections – but I found 100 Years of Solitude to be one of my favorite books of all time. I grew up in Central America and perhaps I’m a bit attuned to his way of looking at the world.

    There is plenty out there for everyone – thanks for sharing.

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  6. Dunno, I’ve only read two from your list (100 Years & Amsterdam) and thoroughly enjoyed both, with 100 Years being one of my all time fave’s. Different strokes, I guess.

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  7. I agree with you about The Corrections – the only book from this list that I’ve read. I’d read some of Franzen’s essays and New Yorker pieces and LOVED the writing, but The Corrections was just…not good.

    More recently, I was quite disappointed with White Teeth by Zadie Smith. I’d heard wonderful things about it, but there was just “something” missing from the plot or characters that made it hard for me to enjoy it. Also, like you said about The Corrections – I feel like White Teeth could have been a bit shorter.

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  8. I know what you mean. Lately, I’ve come across some books that a lot of people love which I wasn’t too crazy about – namely David Mitchell books. Of the books on your list, I can understand why you did’t like The Corrections and The Gathering – I was also very disappointed with those two books.

    However, I really liked 100 Years of Solitude, as well as Amsterdam.

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    • If you read David Mitchell in order you might notice that from book to book he often uses the identical words, metaphors, etc. almost like he is relying on one of those computer programs to assist his writing. The last of his novels I read was Black Swan Green and it went on my “Year’s Worst” list.

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      • I’ve read 3 of his books, but not in order. I know that he uses the same style for at least 3 of his books I think. Of the 3 novels, I like 1, but the other two (Cloud Atlas and Black Swan Green) I wasn’t too crazy about. I just think he’s a very gimmicky writer.

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  9. I’ve just put down All That I Am by Anne Funder after being unable to get more than a little way through. It has won lots of prizes here in Australia and sold really well but it just felt too try hard for me. Don’t know why. Maybe its me?

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  10. Recently, The Traitor Queen by Trudi Canavan and Dirk Gently’s Holistic detective agency by Douglas Adams. In both cases I loved the author’s previous work but the books in question simply didn’t hold up to that standard.

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  11. I liked 100 Years of Solitude but I know that a lot of people hates it or are not enamored by it.

    Of all the books that I’ve read, the one that disappointed me the most is The Alchemist by Coelho. I was expecting it to be better than what I’ve read since my friends were raving about it but it just came off as preachy and pretentious to me.

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  12. ifnotread

    Oh, this is a great topic. I thought Franzen’s Freedom was terrible. And I was in pain reading ‘Arundhati Roy’s ‘The god of small things’ and David Mitchell’s ‘Cloud Atlas’ that I finished neither.

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  13. Do we have to count books that we read through to the end as disappointments? Because both ‘The Mists of Avalon’ and ‘The Battle of Evernight’ were severe disappointments (and they have quite a few reasons in common, actually, for being so…) but I couldn’t finish reading either.
    Probably, though, my biggest literary disappointment was Katherine Paterson’s ‘Jacob Have I Loved.’ One of the single worst, most pointless, hateful books I have ever read, all the more astounding because it comes from the author of the incredibly beautiful and meaningful ‘Bridge to Terabithia.’ It even won the Newbery Medal, for no reason that I can fathom.

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  14. sandivengeance

    Thanks for dropping by my blog 🙂 I personally found I was disappointed by ‘Mysterious Skin’, I just couldn’t get into it the way I wanted. Especially disappointing because I loved the movie so much.

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  15. I agree about “100 Years of Solitude.” I had to give up in despair. I know this won’t be a popular opinion, but I couldn’t bear “The English Patient.” I have to agree with Elaine from Seinfeld (about both the book and the movie) “Oh, just go ahead and die already.” More recently, the book “Wild” by Cheryl Strayed has received rave reviews, but it left me seething.

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  16. Vishy

    Nice post! It is sad that ‘Amsterdam’ was the only book of McEwan that you didn’t like much and it won the Booker prize. So strange! ‘Atonement’ is definitely a wonderful book. I liked the movie too. I haven’t read any of Jonathan Franzen’s books, but for some reason I think that he is overrated as a writer. I read one of his articles in the New Yorker and it was nice but I couldn’t stop feeling that he was trying to be too smart for his own good. I also feel that there are many wonderful Latin American writers who have written interesting, deep books but for some reason Marquez towers above all of them – maybe because of his Nobel prize.

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  17. Great list; these are all on my shelf right now. One issue, I adore OHYOS.

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  18. The Gathering is either a hit or miss book. A lot of my friends do not like it. I actually threw the book at some point, but I ended up loving it. It’s that book that I love but won’t recommend.

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  19. I liked to hide my annoyance at 100 years by telling myself the book was historically accurate in the naming that it was okay, the family tree at the front got plenty of thumbing though.

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  20. You could change the idea here and say books that disappointed me first time round but grew on me on second reading. Murakami’s IQ84, for example, which I came back to reluctantly in a moment of boredom and was entranced by. Maybe 100 Years will grow on you second time around. I hated Midnight’s Children until I read Haroun, which was like a key to MC’s riches.

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