Saturday, January 15, 2011

I can't read that, Part 1

It happens a couple times a year that I start a novel and never make it to the last page. Usually, I lose interest. The story no longer grabs me, or some other book has just come out that I want to read more. I put down the novel and never come back to it. Then there's another category of book: The one I stop reading because the narrative has upset or disgusted me so much that I simply cannot continue.

This second kind of book is so rare that I can count on one hand the number of times I've come across it. In most cases, these books are praised as classics of the genre and/or have won multiple awards. I feel I need to point that out so no one thinks I'm calling them bad novels. I'm not. The dislike is personal.

The first such novel I remember coming across: "Lord Foul's Bane," Book 1 of The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever, by Stephen R. Donaldson.

I received this book as a gift when I was in junior high school. The friend who gave it to me had previously given me a David Eddings novel, which I loved, so I had high hopes for this one, too. I was 12, maybe 13, when I attempted to read "Lord Foul's Bane." That was about 20 years ago, so I remember this book more in generalities than specifics. Wikipedia informs me that this novel was published in 1977 and won the British Fantasy Society's award for best novel. Donaldson also won the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer two years later.

Mostly what turned me off was the main character: Thomas Covenant. I want to read stories about generally nice-but-flawed people who get into dire situations and how they do (or do not) get themselves out again. Covenant is a despicable character. I hated him from the start, and not even in a love-to-hate-him kind of way, but I kept reading until the scene where he rapes a well-meaning woman who is trying to help him. At that point, I set the novel on the shelf and never picked it up again. Perhaps Covenant later redeemed himself, became a changed man. I hope he did because otherwise, what's the point in starting him out as so unlikeable? Whether he did or not, I'll never know. I simply could not read about him for another page.

This is the only time that a character caused me to give upon a book. Next post: the book I tried to read twice and failed both times.

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