Saturday 13 November 2010

The Literary Blog Hop

Literary Blog Hop

The Literary Blog Hop is sponsored by The Blue Bookcase and is a blog hop open to blogs that primarily feature book reviews of literary fiction, classic literature, and general literary discussion. I am doing more book reviews lately but that hasn't been the main focus of my blog for some time. YA literature may qualify. I think I tend to do more literary YA, than non-literary- or at least I hope I do. And I have done the occasional literary grown up book. So, I'm not sure that my blog does qualify really, but I hope it does as I wanted to respond to this one particularly as my lovely friend Debbie over at Readerbuzz supplied this weeks question. 

What is the most difficult literary work you've ever read? What made it so difficult?

There are a few contenders for this dubious distinction. I suffered through Patrick White's A Fringe of Leaves. But it was more boring than difficult. It was difficult to get through, difficult to keep going, and did take me three months to eventually finish as I recall. I famously hated Julian Barnes' England, England. Awful, just awful. But not really Difficult. 

The one that stands out for me as big D Difficult just now is Virginia Woolf's Mrs Dalloway. 

What I wrote when I read it a few years ago, when I did suffer through this book:

Definitely style over substance. The writing interferes with concentration, understanding, enjoyment. Every time I put the book down, which was fairly often it took 6 to 10 pages to get back into the style when I picked it up again. Could easily have been called Septimus Warren Smith. I certainly did not get a feel for Clarissa Dalloway nearly as much as for SWS. What is the point of it all? I have no idea.

Perhaps I'm not literary enough. Perhaps I'm just thick, but it was all too much for me. And this is exactly the sort of book I don't like, where the writing obfuscates the story. And why I perpetually put off things like attempting James Joyce. Perhaps the author is writing it for themselves. Perhaps they are clever enough to understand it. But don't make me read it. My displeasure at reading Woolf (I have read To the Lighthouse as well, but didn't hate it quite so much) made a little phrase stand out for me in Julian Barnes' wonderful Flaubert's Parrot. His main character, Geoffrey Braithwaite, decrees that he is going to "save Virginia Woolf til he was dead." Sage advice. I am more than happy to join him. 


Susan said...

I loved Flaubert's Parrot. I'm embarrassed to admit I've never read Woolf, though it's always been in the back of my mind I should really try. But so many people on this hop have used her as an example of difficult, I'm not sure whether I feel challenged to read her or put off.

JoAnn said...

I chose Mrs. Dalloway, too. After three attempts and 25 years, I had a much different reading experience... I liked it! Love the line from Flaubert's Parrot, too.

@parridhlantern said...

Also Love Flaubert's Parrot & also am remiss concerning woolf, will remedy that

NancyO said...

I think Virginia Woolf is the difficult author of choice on this blog question. So many people had a lot of trouble with it. I've got to admit to never even attempting anything by Woolf and I see I made the right decision!

Gilion at Rose City Reader said...

Your phrase, "the writing obfuscates the story," is perfect. When I look at the book that I do not enjoy, that is my usual complaint.

This was a fun question to answer. My pick was Finnegans Wake. I could have gone with anything by Henry James, but Wakes tops them all for me.

Rose City Reader

Deb Nance at Readerbuzz said...

Just because we like to read literary works, does that mean we must understand them?

That's part of the charm of the beautifully written work, I think. Somehow getting some of it but never feeling like we really understand it.

Like looking on the Eiffel Tower and marveling at its amazing beauty, but never really understanding why we find it so beautiful.

Louise said...

Susan-Glad to hear that I'm not alone with Flaubert's Parrot. Woolf is interesting to try, and I guess I'm glad I've done it, perhaps if I get to the end of other books and styles that I love to read, then maybe I would consider her again. Maybe it will change when I'm older? Will I be more patient then? Will added maturity help? Or just make me more curmudgeonly? Only time will tell!

JoAnn- I just read your wonderful post on Mrs Dalloway. The right time for the reader to read the book can certainly be important. I'm glad you enjoyed it. I don't know if I'd be brave enough to tackle it again.

parrish lantern- good to meet another Flaubert's Parrot admirer. It's probably important for readers to approach Woolf, she certainly is one of the big names isn't she? I think it's equally important for us to be able to walk away, knowing that it's not right for us as a reader.

NancyO- so good to know that I'm not alone. You're right to be afraid.

Rose City Reader- The writing is very important isn't it? Sometimes the writing is so good, such a light touch, or turn of phrase that it actually stops you reading. At that time too, the writing interferes with the story- but in the good way. The books I really can't stand are the ones were the writing interferes with the story for me, such as Mrs Dalloway. The author is perhaps trying to be too clever, the author is too much of a presence rather than the story. Everything I'm reading about Finnegan's Wake is ringing alarm bells for me that I'd hate it too.

readerbuzz- Fabulous discussion you've started up here- great job with the question. I'm glad I launched myself in. I want to understand literary works. To me if I can't, then either the author, or I, haven't done our job. I'll bring to it what I can. A reasonable depth of knowledge as a general reader, an interest, and a desire to read their work. But if the author makes the job too hard, too impossible to penetrate with their style (and I think it's usually style that is the big let down for me here), then I don't think they've done their bit. I haven't read a lot of Cormac McCarthy, but I remember finding his vocabulary difficult in The Road where he did use a challenging style that I did actually grow to love, and I reread the book as soon as I'd finished it the first time through. But when it's a rather simple matter of looking up a word then you a) learn a new word, which is always fun and b) can move on, without being stuck in a complete bog. I love it when the writing sings to you, a phrase a sentence, a paragraph, literally stops you in your tracks and you think WOW. I'm not as forgiving though when it stops me in my tracks thinking WHAT THE?

Louise said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kath Lockett said...

You're made of sturdier stuff than I, Louisa. I have a couple of Patrick Whites on my bookshelf given to me by an earnest brother-in-law that I've not touched; telling myself that life is for living, I'm in my forties now and want to read for enjoyment, not endurance etc.

And I hated 'To the light house' and read it only to survive an English tutorial.

The only book that I've thrown in the bin was a Norman Mailer (cringes at the thought of scorn now about to be heaped upon her) and had to give up on Vikram Seth's 'A Suitable Boy' about 500 pages in - too boring, life's too short etc.

gautami tripathy said...

I have read a lot of classics in my school and college years. And some still remain my favorites. However, there are a few I could never get into..

Here is my Literary Blog Hop post!

Sarah Joyce said...

I had the same problem with Mrs. Dalloway. I went into it pretty sure I wouldn't like her stream of consciousness style, and by page 50 I was sure of it. I usually get crap for having not finished anything by Woolf, so I'm glad I'm not alone here!

Sarah @ Loving Books

*ೃ༄ Jillian said...

Ha! This Woolf book made a lot of lists. I'm excited to read it soon, to form my own opinion. I have no earthly idea why, but I believe I'll like Virginia Woolf. :-)

bibliophiliac said...

Poor, poor Virginia! What can I say in her defense? Obfuscates? Hmmm, maybe it is that the consciousness of the character is the veil through which the reader experiences the narrative? Obviously stream-of-consciousness is not for everyone! I love Woolf, Faulkner, and Morrison, so I guess I have a high tolerance for this style. I just jump in and float down the stream. But I do love poetic prose.

Bellezza said...

Here's what I say: Don't confuse difficult with boring. ;)

I read four works of Virginia Woolf's last winter, and while I enjoyed the experience of discussing them with fellow bibliophiles, I found the works largely void of meaning. I can't relate to an atheistic, bi-sexual author with quite the connection I have for those who are more similar to me.

Everyone raves about her, but I'm content to let her lie as well.

Anonymous said...

Just a quick comment from Beechworth. Great discussion here - despite the Woolf bashing. Must say that I do like her, particularly To the lighthouse, and A room of one's own (not fiction though of course). THe book I couldn't finish at university was Henry James' The ambassadors. I have read other James and liked him BUT went back to The ambassadors a few years ago and could not read it all over again. Will I try it a third time? I suspect not.

Melody said...

Oh my, and Mrs. Dalloway is one of my goals for next year.

I loved what you said in this comment: "I love it when the writing sings to you, a phrase a sentence, a paragraph, literally stops you in your tracks and you think WOW. I'm not as forgiving though when it stops me in my tracks thinking WHAT THE?" Sounds like we share a similar appreciation for prose.

MedSchoolWife said...

Thanks for joining in on the hop with us!

I am sad to read that you do not enjoy Virginia Woolf, as she is in my top 3 favorite writers, and I LOVED Mrs. Dalloway :) I can understand, though, how it would be difficult if you don't enjoy stream-of-consciousness, because she is THE master of it

Louise said...

Kath-sturdier? more foolhardy? could go either way I suspect. I don't think I've ever attempted any Mailer, and I am completely put off by the size of A Suitable Boy.

gautami-thanks for hopping by

letter4no1- stream of consciousness is clearly a love it or hate it style.

Jillian- someone has to like her, it could easily be you!

Louise said...

bibliophiliac-don't get me wrong, I'm glad some other people can enjoy the stream of consciousness- Woolf, Faulkner, Joyce etc. It's just not for me.

Belleza- what if it's difficult and boring? ;-) I'm sure having read 4 of Woolf is more than enough, and you can happily rest on your Woolf reading laurels. You're done. I'm done at two.

whisperinggums- Thanks. It is a great discussion. This blog hop has been very fun. I wasn't at all sure how it would work. I've never read any James, but am aware that he has a difficult reputation. Actually I don't think I came across anyone who picked James for their most difficult read, I think we were all too busy with poor old Virginia or James Joyce.

Melody- I hope you enjoy it, Mrs Dalloway may come as a lovely surprise to you.

ConnieGirl- it's the old cliche isn't it? Think how dull it would be if we all liked the same thing- blog hops wouldn't be half as much fun. I'm a little in awe of those who can like and understand her, but I am content that she's not for me.