Books – specifically fantasy fiction books – are my passion. They’re a constant in my life. A way to comfort myself after a bad day. A way to stimulate my mind when it could easily sink into laziness, A way to make sense of the world.
But if you read in the same way, you’ll know it’s hardly a serene, passive experience. Some stories will leave you fangirling like a 14 year old, gushing about the brilliance of each page to anyone showing the slightest inclination to listen. Others can arouse strong emotions like disappointment, anger and disgust. These are the kind of books that make you shout at them as you’re reading, scaring the bejeezus out of the cat or any passing family members.
The question is: why do they have this effect on us?
Here are three books I’ve read in the past year or so that have made me want to throw them across the room. (Thankfully, I resisted – e-readers aren’t cheap!) I wanted to look at why they had such a strong effect on me.
- A Song For Ella Grey by David Almond
- The Painted Man by Peter V. Brett
- The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness
WARNING: If you don’t want to read spoilers from these books, look away now as I discuss the plots and events in some depth!
Disappointment: A Song for Ella Grey
Those of you who’ve read my review for this book probably won’t be surprised here. The overriding emotion I felt when I got to the end of Ella Grey was disappointment. I’d stuck with it all the way to the end. Through the at times impenetrable dialect. Through the protagonist’s obsession with listing which wine they’d bought from Tescos. And then… it just petered out!
Nobody likes the feeling of time and effort wasted over more than 200 pages.
Anger: The Painted Man
This is a really good book. I loved the premise – of a world where demons prowl every night and only the power of carefully constructed warding symbols can keep them at bay. I quite liked the edge to it. This was no pg-rated epic romp where the good guys could take on the hordes of evil and emerge with barely a scar. But then something happened, about 80% of the way through the book that ruined it for me…
One of the 3 main characters is raped. Naturally this is the female character, because clearly this never happens to men, even in pseudo-medieval worlds. But then it turned out that this wasn’t even an event that would shape her character. Instead it was a clumsy device to try and justify some kind of instalove with one of the other main characters!
Look, I’m a woman. I’ve had my fair share of unwelcome experiences as a consequence of daring to go out in public, knowingly in possession of two x chromosomes. And I can safely say that not a single one of these episodes has driven me to leap lustily onto the nearest alpha male mere hours later in an attempt to purge my ‘shame’!
I found the whole idea insensitive, inaccurate and just plain weak in terms of storytelling. Needless to say that it put me off reading the rest of the series too.
Disgust: The Knife of Never Letting Go
This book is so bleak, so depressing, so doom and gloom that I suspect it makes Tess of the D’ Urbervilles seem quite cheerful. The human race is on a crash course to extinction because men can’t suffer to let women live. Everyone is half mad from years of being able to hear each other’s thoughts. Todd Hewitt is just a boy, but he’s on the run with what might be the last girl left alive, from a crazy old preacher who just doesn’t know how to stay dead.
Systematically, everything he cares about is taken from him. His family. His hopes for the future. Even his trusty pet hound. Talk about kicking a boy when he’s down. When it got to the final scene, where salvation was finally in sight and the bloody preacher turns up again, yes I wanted to cast it away and throw myself into something safer and fluffier.
But this is the exception that proves the rule. The trick, which took me an embarassingly long time to discover with this one, is to focus on the word “despite”. Despite the pain of loss that Todd carries with him. Despite the times his hopes are crushed again and again. Despite the number of times he has the illusion of power over his own circumstances taken from him. Despite all these things, he perseveres. He picks himself up, he works with Viola instead of taking the easy option and handing her over. He has faith in himself. And if he can hold on to that, then there’s hope for us all.
This isn’t an easy book. But it’s one I’m glad I was wrong about. And I’m glad I held on to it.
What do you think? Have you ever actually thrown a book across the room? And if so, which one? Or ones – maybe you’re a serial book hurler? Let me know.