Wednesday, 3 December 2014

IWSG - Not quite a book review, but close

It's the last IWSG meeting of the year - time to share our problems and worries, and help others in turn. The list of participants is right here.

This month I am insecure about something I read, rather than something I wrote.

The book in question - A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing, by Eimear McBride - has mixed reviews on Goodreads, but has won several literary awards. It is experimental, in style; although I've never really understood what that term means in terms of fiction, because I've never really found anything I would consider truly experimental - they usually have words and sentences, a plot, some characters... So far, so normal.

However, just the first page or two, had me wondering whether I'd actually forgotten how to read! The sentences are half-formed, let alone the girl. I read every paragraph a couple of times, getting the drift of what the author was saying but not really understanding it. For example:

"I know. The thing wrong. It’s a. It is called. Nosebleeds, head aches . Where you can’t hold. Fall mugs and dinner plates she says clear up."
McBride, Eimear (2014-04-07). A Girl Is a Half-formed Thing (p. 1). Faber & Faber. Kindle Edition

I have never before read something that made me feel stupid. And I don't think I want to ever again. I actually gave up on the book on the second page - something that I try never to do.

So, does this make it experimental? Hmm, not sure. I don't think this novel has helped me decide what experimental fiction really is. I can understand that stream-of-consciousness can be seen as such, but I think it should be more than that. And surely since fiction has existed for thousands of years, there's no new way of telling a story that someone hasn't done at some point.

(Slightly off-topic, because it's been bugging me - I usually think in whole sentences. I have never thought It's a. Have you?)

The good reviews on Goodreads call it impressive, intelligent and accomplished. So, because I just don't get this book, does that mean I'm none of the above? Am I missing out? What does it say about my own writing - am I too simple, too basic?


Have you read this book? Did you enjoy it?
Have you ever read a book that made you feel stupid?
Can you explain experimental to me?





69 comments:

  1. No, yes, no in answer to your above questions! I read to be entertained, to travel and encounter characters I would never meet in real life. What I definitely don't want to be is confused and left feeling I am missing something. Will be interesting to see what others say about this topic, Annalisa.

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  2. Hi Annalisa .. is it because of the title .. i.e. half-formed and she's replicating the idea as you start reading .. don't know - but it might put me off ... and am very glad the IWSG is out - been and bought .. cheers Hilary

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    1. I think the title and the prose are definitely linked, Hilary. In small doses it might be effective - a novella or short story, but a whole novel is overwhelming.

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  3. If I wrote like that my editor would rip me apart. But if it makes you feel better, there are many books that were too heavy for me to read and made me feel really stupid. It happens to me a lot or maybe I'm just stupid. Don't feel stupid. Just think of it as the book not being to your taste.

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    1. That's a good way to look at it, Murees :-)

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  4. Well, this is difficult for me answer. You see, while manic I think very quickly (I have bipolar disorder, so does my sister and niece) and when it happens, I begin or end sentences and my mind fills the gaps. Similarly to the excerpt you offer. When I write during these episodes, it's one almighty stream of consciousness ramble, out of which great ideas (sometimes) emerge. Trouble is, my mind works very differently while 'stable,' and while depressed, my brain cannot interpret even the most simple of concepts. So I have to say, according to where my head is at, I'd find this book easy and relatable, or downright awful. :)

    shahwharton.com

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    1. Thanks for sharing an alternative view. It's interesting that you'd be able to see the same book in completely different ways.

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  5. I can see a few short, incomplete sentences, but all strung together like that is very difficult to read. I'd rather write easy and accessible.

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    1. Easy and accessible makes the story stand out, Alex, rather than hiding it.

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  6. I've lost count of how many times people have raved about a book or a movie while I just don't see what it is they're seeing. I used to think there was something wrong with me for that but now I mostly just shrug and remember we all have our own opinions an preferences. :)

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    1. Yes, usually I think this way, but I've never given up on a book on page 2 before. Perhaps I should just congratulate myself on all the time I've saved.

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  7. i've downloaded several books that i tried to like but couldn't. i was glad i could send them back via Amazon Kindle.

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    1. It never occurred to me to send it back.I might have another go, at some point.

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  8. Incomplete sentences in the heat of a moment make sense, as in a character is running and out of breath, or nervous that she can't formulate a coherent sentence, usually with ellipses throughout. Maybe the character was foreign? But even then, I would rather read the interpretation and not the literal chopped-up language.

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    1. I can understand its use in dialogue - I used chopped up sentences myself - but when the prose was structured that way, it just completely messed with my head!

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  9. In college I read some similarly perplexing literature. I've found that listening to acid jazz while skimming them is the best way to drink in the essence, but then again I'm pretty weird.

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    1. Acid jazz isn't my thing. Maybe I'll try some death metal...

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  10. I can see what the author is trying to do, but in all honesty, writing like this puts me off. I've read an excerpt of 'Shatter Me' by Tahereh Mafi and it does a similar thing - loads of people loved it on Goodreads, but I personally found the writing style a turn-off. I read books so I can switch my brain off and enjoy the story - I don't want to spend time trying to decipher what the author was trying to say! I wouldn't worry about it, we all like different things :).
    As for reading a book that made me feel stupid, at university we learnt about how D.H. Lawrence (and a couple of other authors, but can't remember their names) used to deliberately make his books hard to read, as he didn't believe that reading should be a hobby for the 'lower classes'. I tried to read a couple of his books and I literally had no idea what was going on! So, don't worry, you're not the only one ;).

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    1. I had to read Sons & Lovers at school, so that's interesting about Lawrence. Funny how he seemed to write about the lower classes though.

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  11. What? How could anyone read and comprehend that? Like Alex, I understand using an incomplete sentence hear and there, but it has to make sense!

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    1. The 5* reviews mean it must make sense to someone!

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  12. I just think it means that you are mainstream, like the rest of us. I suspect I'd much rather read your words than any story written in the above format. Shudders.

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  13. I would have given up on the first page. Why bother writing stuff like this? My brain needs to read something coherent or it checks out real quick.

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    1. I actually think it's easier to write that way than read it. But being coherent is key - even if it isn't written in a way people expect.

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  14. I think we all have our individual tastes as readers. Publishing is such a subjective industry.

    Once, I read a book written from the perspective of someone who couldn't speak English. It took me a few pages to adapt to what was going on. And then I got sucked into the story.

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    1. I'm definitely going to try this book again. I hate being beaten - it might take a while. But then, this is the woman who had to skip the first couple of chapters of Sense and Sensibility because I could get my head around the two characters both called Mr Dashwood!! The second time around, I was able to read from the beginning. D'oh!

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  15. I've never heard about this, but i'd definitely give it a try.
    House of Leaves is experimental There's an entire story in the footnotes, and the further you get into the book the crazier things get, like the words being written in spirals or weird patterns or clues that you have to decipher. It's a great book, though

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    1. If you do read it, Sarah, please stop by and give me some pointers! House of Leaves sounds interesting. My clue-solving skill is very bad though :-)

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  16. You are definitely not stupid! That's very hard to read, and take in. It's also definitely experimental - or at least by my definition. I'm with Sarah Ahiers - House of Leaves is SUPER experimental. Great, creepy book, though.

    I think in complete sentences, but we don't SPEAK in complete sentences. Or rather, very few people do, especially during moments of high emotion or tension. That's something I like to play with in dialogue. Maybe this author is doing the same here? I'm intrigued...

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    1. It's the whole book, not just the dialogue, Liz. As I understand it from the reviews, the dialogue is all bunched up into the same paragraph a lot of the time. I'm not quite sure why the author wouldn't want the reader to read the story.

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  17. I'm all for being creative with language. Honestly, I love using fragments (especially in dialogue). But it still has to be readable in the end. I don't think I would be able to get through that book, either.

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    1. Fragments certainly have a place - but the whole novel would (or will, when I attempt again) make my head explode.

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  18. that sounds quite bizarre. Don't question yourself - not reading ability, not writing ability, etc
    That little bit annoyed me immensely. Whew - must go rest my eyes.

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    1. Thanks Joanne, but when so many other people are saying how good it is, they're either much better at reading than me, or they're exaggerating to look good.

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  19. First of all, I don't like the title...it's weird! And no, that sentence doesn't make a bit of sense. I think in all fiction, whether movies, TV shows, or books, sometimes things become big hits that just make no sense to both of us. (The Twilight series, 50 Shades of Gray...)

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    1. Oh, there are a lot of things I don't understand the success of. If we could figure it out, we'd be selling millions!

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  20. Based on that sample, I'm impressed you made it to the second page. None of my books had ever won an award, so I'm sure I'm just not a good enough writer to appreciate this kind of brilliant experimentation.

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    1. It sometimes feels that way, doesn't it? I prefer the opinion that we all have different literary tastes :-)

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  21. I love Shah's comment on the subject. The book may indeed have been written by someone in a manic state, which makes it realistic and relatable to certain people.

    I noticed they give many awards to stream-of-consciousness books. When I see that, I'm always thinking: "Why am I even rewriting and editing?" But I suppose there is some structure in that type of writing anyway. I just don't always see it.

    And, no, I'm not going to read that book :)

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    1. Yes, Shah gives a completely different perspective that I hadn't considered.

      On your other point, can you imagine being the editor on that project? Where would you even start!

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  22. As someone who talks like that, yes. That's why I lean a lot towards writing, because I'm slightly dyslexic, and my mouth moves before my thoughts finish developing. I'd probably read it because I understand it. It's okay to not if you don't, but you also have to try to understand where the author was coming from.

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    1. I agree that you need to look at the author to understand the book. However, I wonder how her next book will be written. What is original and experimental this time might lose its impact if subsequent books follow the same style, perhaps?

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    2. Most likely. The novelty will probably wear off.

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  23. I haven't read this book, but it doesn't sound like something I'd enjoy. I like to be pulled into the books I read. meet new people and visit new places. I don't want to have to decipher what the author is saying. The writing has to be smooth so that I can enjoy the story. And it doesn't make you less intelligent that you didn't get the book. No book should make a person feel that way.

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    1. This book definitely felt like it was pushing me away!

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  24. Spot on, Annalisa! I completely get where you are coming from about this. We all talk in phrases from time to time, but reading "experimental" bad writing isn't the same. Creativity has its boundaries and poor writing is exactly that. I think this book would confuse and frustrate me, from the sounds of it. I don't want to have to work that hard when I'm reading a story. I want the story to make sense so I can think about its message for me.

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    1. Thanks M.J. Yes, if the story is worth writing, it's worth being able to read it! But, as people have commented, and as the reviews prove, some people have happily read it.

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  25. I'm intrigued. Not sure whether I could get my head around that or not. Is the whole book truly written in that vein? If it is and manages to tell a story, I guess it must be well done. Hmmm. But I think you should always throw aside a book you're not enjoying. Life's too short and reading should be satisfying.

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    1. Yes, the whole book is like it. I thought, to start with, the author was writing from a young child POV and as the character grew the writing would change, so I skipped through, and it doesn't. I will try again, maybe a couple of times - I have to know if I can do it!

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  26. Whoa, those sentences...? were weird! If the whole book was like that, I don't think I could read it either. To each their own, I guess! =)

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    1. Literature would certainly become boring quickly if all books were the same :-)

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  27. Just reading those sentences (and I use the term loosely) makes me never want to read that book. I think in full sentences too. I've read and never finished a couple of books with a lot of bad street slang. It wasn't that I didn't get it, I just didn't enjoy it. I like my sentences proper!

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    1. It's interesting what puts us off a book, isn't it?

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  28. that excerpt gave me a headache. literally... I would have put it down.

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  29. Blogger ate my comment! sill blogger.

    Still, I don't think incoherent, under structured writing makes something experimental. I think it makes absolutely no sense. I wouldn't have read on.

    On the other hand, I love riddles and puzzles, so I would definitely read House of Leaves.

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    1. Yes, House of Leaves sounds very interesting, doesn't it?

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  30. In answer to your question; occasionally I feel inadequate once I've finished reading a book. But I suspect it says more about me than the writer though.

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    1. Oh yes, there are several books that make me wonder why I even pick up a pen! The only thing we can do is try to be better, keep pushing ourselves :-)

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  31. I don't think I could read a whole book in that format. If someone finds some deep meaning in it and enjoys that style, then I'm glad for them.

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    1. Each to their own, I guess. Lots of people have been enjoying it.

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  32. Haven't read the book but if the whole book is like that, I don't think I would get very far either. Just struggling to make sense of what is being said would constantly pull me out of the story.

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    1. Yes, that was my problem - in those two pages I read - I couldn't connect with the story at all.

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  33. I sometimes think people hear a book is smart and they go along with it rather than say it's stupid. Like thongs. Who the hell honestly wants to wear butt floss? I've had people tell me they're comfortable. Ha. People need to learn to be honest- just say, I like it because I follow the crowds. There's no shame in that. Just be honest. And honesty- if those are real excerpts of a great book? I am going to go dig out the stuff I wrote in kindergarten and get it published.

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    1. Lol, thongs are definitely for show, not for comfort! I just wonder how her editor even got started on the manuscript!

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Please comment - I love a good chat!