Sunday, July 31, 2011

The 5 Worst Novels I've Ever Read

I think it's only fair to excoriate a book when I spend equal amounts of time praising a different book. I've written before of my favourite novels, my favourite comics, my favourite movies. Now I'd like to take a second, sit right there, and I'm going to explain why I've chosen these five novels as the worst I've ever read.

Before we get into it, let's take a look at what I mean by the worst. Mostly, if I hate a book, I'm going to be actively angry. My review will probably end in saying "fuck you, author" or whatever. The novel could be filled with poor prose, badly drawn characters, limp plotting, or it could have distasteful politics. Obviously, I tend to avoid novels that I'm certain I won't like. I won't read Tom Clancy because he's far too Republican. I won't read the Twilight books because frankly, there's so much better stuff out there. And I won't read fantasy. These are examples of things that I'm predisposed to dislike, prejudiced, if you will. These five books were novels that I expected to enjoy. And I was extremely disappointed.

Angels and Demons by Dan Brown

I read this at the height of Da Vinci Code hysteria. It was summer time and I saw the paperback for cheap at a used bookstore. I read it in a couple days. It was ludicrously bad. From the syntactical errors to the egregious misunderstanding of science to the cardboard characters to the breathless and annoying pace, I hated everything about this book. Everything. I can't think of a single element that interested me. I knew who the villain was from the first 30 pages, despite Brown's disgustingly elementary red herrings. The part that stands out so firmly in my mind, beyond Brown's donnish protagonist bedding a Bond girl, on a bearskin rug by a fireplace at the end, is when the hero leaps from a helicopter (in flight) from an "anti-matter" bomb and somehow, he and Rome survive. Are you fucking kidding me? The villain's scheme is overly complicated and the hero's method of deduction so reliant on coincidence that I was frustrated. Did I mention the book is riddled with syntactical errors? The very first scene features a mistake so bad I thought I was going to get a headache. Sure, I make errors in grammar and spelling. But this is a blog. It isn't edited by a professional proofreader. How did prose this poor get past the eyes of a proofreader? AGH! This book makes me mad.

Daniel Martin by John Fowles

You can click here for my review. Looking back on this review, I don't think I want to change my stance. I think this book sucks. I think it's self-indulgent, poorly structured and almost offensive to the readers that have plowed through his previous novels.

State of Fear by Michael Crichton

This "novel" is essentially a textbook. Most of the exposition is delivered by a guy armed with PowerPoint. And most of the book is exposition. The plot, or at least the excuse for exposition, is flimsy. Like Lolita in lingerie flimsy. There's no immediate danger to anybody or anything in the book, but that doesn't stop Crichton from writing as if the danger of environmentalists is palpable. I would almost applaud him for taking a controversial position and then trying to defend it, if it wasn't for his fudging of data and his arrogance while doing so. Many climate experts have denounced the science contained in State of Fear as misconstrued or even misrepresented for the sake of the argument. Crichton was accused of twisting the facts to support his thesis: that global warming is in fact a liberal conspiracy to keep American complacent. I'm always skeptical of books that claim to open the audience's eyes. Included in this category are books such as Fight Club. Claims to open my eyes are always greeted with a rolling of those very eyes. It's all so dubious. Crichton's self-appointed position as oracle and whistle-blower is infuriating, considering he believed himself a man of science, and up until this book, I believed it too. Reading journals and presenting graphs does not make a good novel. Neither does a hamfisted and poorly explained thesis. This book sucks.

Diary by Chuck Palahniuk

Or frankly, anything by Palahniuk. I hated this book so much that I've purposefully forgotten any details about it. All I remember is hating it. And I read this when I was in university, and reading a bunch of shit like Palahniuk, trying to be cool and edgy. Therefore I tend to be embarrassed about my past experience with him, and I'm often embarrassed for readers who confess to liking him. I almost always want to slap the Palahniuk out of their hands and present them with something - anything - that will wash the taste out of their mouths. It's not just the over-reliance on twist endings. It's not the formulaic presentation. It's not even the characters, all of whom are merely sketched and then manipulated by the plot for the sake of the twist. No, it's the prose. It's the terrible aping of minimalist style that desperately relies on cool things like a chorus or constant repetition. Or the cool scientific "facts" that Palahniuk crowbars into the narrative, rarely changing the language of the exposition so it just bounces off the rest of the slack prose. Diary is the worst of the books. It's the novel that utterly destroyed my confidence in the author. It's turgid. It's incomprehensible and it's so juvenile. Any statement that the author is trying to make about "art" is lost when he uses such childish prose and twists. I hated this book. I'm embarrassed to even say that I've read it. This was the second to last Palahniuk that I read; I stopped with Haunted, after I realized I was too old for such juvenilia.

The Neanderthal Parallax by Robert J Sawyer

So this is a cheat. These three books make up a trilogy, essentially one long work split into three. I couldn't possibly choose one of the three. That's like asking which part of Lord of the Rings is worse. Suffice it to say that if you ever wanted to read the worst dialogue ever written, Sawyer is your man. What makes this trilogy so disappointing is not Sawyer's obsession with pandering to Canadian audiences or Star Trek fans, but the promise of the setup and missing the mark so totally. If you're not familiar with the books (pat yourself on the back), it's about a female scientist with a quantum computer which punches a hole in the fabric of space and comes out the other side to a male Neanderthal scientist with a quantum computer. They fall in love, have an adventure which includes a preposterous and totally annoying political melodrama and a murder mystery and even a legal drama thrown in. But in the usual Sawyer style, the main character can't simply be a person. No, she's a symbol. At the beginning of the trilogy, the protagonist is raped and the super adult theme of "oh god guys, rape is bad" is echoed over and over again. Violence for sex never solves anything. Yes, thank you, Sawyer. We get it. Sawyer often gets praised for using real world issues that involve science or technology and asking hard questions, like if aliens have a God or would an alien be subject to immigration laws. Yes, I'm being facetious. I don't fucking understand the critics who pour adoration all over Sawyer's treatment of pseudo-topical subjects. He deals with his subject matter in such a facile and childish manner that I can't even describe to you how it felt to read this trilogy and see Sawyer come to grips with the issue of male sexual violence via NEANDERTHAL scientists and politicians. If that doesn't trivialize the subject matter, I DON'T KNOW WHAT DOES. Caps lock was needed for that sentence. Notice that I've written a few hundred words about these books without even mentioning the fact that Sawyer's science is incredibly bad. His conclusions about how a Neanderthal society would come about are wrongheaded, illogical and were quickly overturned by any real scientist in the field. According to one critic, Sawyer didn't get anything right, and yet the layperson critics just puked their praise all over the place. This isn't an instance of me hating because it's popular. This is an instance of me hating it because it violates fundamental principles of basic storytelling. It's terribly written. I hate it. It's frustrating and fucking stupid.

The five worst books I've ever read. I might do another one of these and post another five. Maybe for movies. I'm not sure. Either way, I'm going to read some Le Carré to wash the taste of this shit from my mouth.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I've never even heard of those, (glad I've never read them!) but here are my worst 5 books:

5. Thunder From the Sea. No idea how it won a state medal, I couldn't even finish the book in grade school, it was so boring.

4. Twilight series for obvious reasons.

3. Prisoner of Time. 1890's woman doesn't want to marry an English lord her father has arranged her with. She ends up traveling in time to the 1990's and meets a man who she actually likes. She decides that in fact she really does want to go back home and marry the lord. A role model for all girls.

2. Johnathan Livingston Seagull. My teacher this year made me read this. God, if this isn't the sappiest piece of crap. Johnathan, the Gary Stu Buddha/Aslan/Jesus seagull who can bend space and time is the flattest character I've ever had the displeasure of reading about. Not to mention that over half of the book isn't even words, they're blurry pictures of seagulls flying. Did this guy have a page quota or something to fill?
The book's moral is that you can be anything you want to be and there are no limits in life. That is only somewhat true.
I am a skinny little teenage American girl who sucks at any sport that does not involve sitting on a horse's back. I'll never, ever, ever be Arnold Schwarzenegger no matter what. Yes, I can get a sex change and steroids. Yes, I can star in some movies or run for governor of California. But I'll never be him, because that's impossible. There are limits in life. We just have to accept that and make do with what we have.

5. The Tortilla Curtain. The same teacher made me read this too. Horrible sex scenes, the most redundant writing I've ever seen, boring characters, petty drama, white-equals-racist and Hispanic-equals-helpless-or-gang-member logic, plus the whole ego-boost feel this book gives the reader make it my #1 worst book of all time.