Sunday, April 17, 2011

A sweeping family saga set against the background of a dystopian future...

And other things that make me not want to read a book. I’m currently trying to read Klas Östergren’s ‘The Hurricane Party’ part of Canongate’s myth series. It’s a good book but I’m struggling with it just a bit, I knew I would the moment I read those dread words “Set in a dystopian future”. I was sucked in by the promise of Norse Gods and ordered a copy via amazon after dithering for about a year, had I actually seen the book in a shop I almost certainly wouldn’t have bought it and as it is I probably won’t keep it (although I still have about a quarter left to read and might change my mind yet) simply because the future (dystopian or utopian) doesn’t appeal to me.

Entirely by the by but Canongate commissioned this book and presumably commissioned a translator at the same time, but I see from the blurb that Klas Östergren is himself a respected translator which makes me wonder – if he can take a book in English and turn it into Swedish is there a reason why he wouldn’t write in English for a British market? I don’t doubt that the two processes are very different but I’m curious about it.

Now back to things I inexplicably just don’t like. I can’t be bothered with books that are set in Australia (with the possible exception of ‘The Thorn Birds’ which I think I’m going to love.) The non fictional Australia looks and sounds like an incredible place that I dream of visiting, Australia in films (especially that one where Hugh Jackman spent a lot of time without a shirt for seemingly purely decorative reasons) and in television looks great. Make the book into a film and I’d almost certainly watch it with enthusiasm, put the book in front of me and it’s like trying to give pills to a cat.

Sweeping family saga’s, especially if they’re multi generational are another genre I just won’t do – it’s a description that fills me heart with dread, no idea why, it’s not like I’ve had any bad experience – I was never buried in an avalanche of family saga’s as a child forced to read my way out to safety and food, nobody I love has ever been hurt by a tale of multi generational love and struggle but the books might as well be made out of Stilton (which I’m not fond of) for all the enthusiasm I can muster for them.

Despite a youthful flirtation with Terry Pratchett, Robert Rankin, and of course Douglas Adams, I don’t really ‘do’ science fiction either - I can’t rule out a return, but again if it’s going to be sci-fi it’s normally the filmed version which appeals.

But far stranger than the things that repel me are the books that attract; Catholics, alcoholics, lesbians – in any combination seem to be a recurring theme. I’m not (yet) any of those things, nor especially likely to be. Books about or by women, books written before 1950, books with a Scottish connection, depressing books about surplus women, old romances (as opposed to historical fiction), genteel murders, books about Otters, epic chronicles that take in generations of a family in love and strife and which are written by Margaret Oliphant or Anthony Trollope (hmm nothing if not consistent...) all things I like.


  1. I adore these sorts of discussions (and I especially love your sentence "I was never buried in an avalanche of family saga’s as a child forced to read my way out to safety and food").

    My biggest turn-off is "It's Ireland in 1820" or similar - you just know everyone's going to starve to death, one by one. 'Dystopic' similarly has me running for the hills, like you.

  2. Looking at my prejudices - both the positive and negative ones always makes me feel like I need to get out more, I do wonder what my reading choice says about me...

  3. You won't be surprised to know that your favourites are mostly mine, too. Alcoholics & lesbians in fiction I can take or leave but I have always been fascinated by nuns, as well as all your other likes, Scotland, murder, surplus women etc. I don't read science fiction or fantasy or westerns, if it comes to that!

  4. i was pointed here from Stuck In a Book and enjoyed your post!

    i'm always put off by the "hard-working, honest man/woman who was recently divorced/fired learns to appreciate life" tales. it's interesting what catches our interest and which topics manage to surprise even our selves. i've always had a fascination with india and africa, even though i've never been and lately, i've been drawn to non-fiction about youth crimes and can't seem to make sense of it in any way.

  5. What a great post! We all have book blurb words or phrases which instantly attract or repel us. My repellants are likely to be horror, terror, wizards, footballer's wife, or 'starts a new life in France'. I am attracted to books which refer to nuns, vicars, dressmakers, and 'travels back in time'. I once read that someone who was fascinated about books about Japan, found under hypnosis that they had lived a previous life as a Japanese. That could be just an interest surfacing, but I wonder if ancesteral memory has any part to play in our preferances?

  6. Michelle Ann, I'm with you on the 'Starts a new life in France' (or anywhere that involves an olive grove, it's probably jealousy but I just don't want to know) and footballers wives or wizards don't do it for me either. I do however love the idea of a dress making vicar, I hope somebody writes that book soon.

    I know I look out for books which touch elements of my own or my family history so like you suspect ancesteral memory plays a big part in forming prejudices.

    The little reader, snap with the hard working people who discover themselves, good for them but I don't feel the need to read about it. I sometimes yearn for a good book about smuggling in the moonfleet or jamaica inn model but never seem able to find them.

    Not sure about the youth crime for my own reading but these things creep up on us and you just have to go with it really.