Home > Challenges, Personal Posts > Not a Rat’s Chance in Hell’s Challenge: my personal wrap up

Not a Rat’s Chance in Hell’s Challenge: my personal wrap up

December 10, 2011 Leave a comment Go to comments

This year I was a participant to Sarah’s challenge Not a Rat’s Chance in Hell’s Challenge. The rules were rather easy to follow, you just had to read a book in each category and you could choose the book you wanted and read it when you wanted. That was perfect for me. So, now that the year is almost finished, how did it go for me? I’ve read 9 out of the 10 books I had picked up; I’d say it went fine for me. Let’s go back to the categories and books:

1. A book that has been previously abandoned.

The Custom of the Country by Edith Wharton. I had started this one twice, in French but I never abandoned the idea of reading it because it wasn’t “normal” for me to abandon it. Wharton is exactly the kind of writers I enjoy reading and I thought I had only started The Custom of the Country at bad times. Now I wonder if the translation is really that good. I was right not to give up on it entirely. I LOVED it although I dislike Undine immensely.

2. A re-read. Didn’t quite get it/thought there was more/made promise to self to re-read? Time to make good.

It was In Search of Lost Time. I didn’t finish re-reading it. I stopped after Sodom and Gomorrah; I’ll continue with The Captive in 2012. I really love Proust. The characters, the ideas, the music of his prose stay with me. To discover my thoughts about Proust, check the Reading Proust page.

3. A book that has sat on the shelf, like, forever. (Decades)

The book in that category was Diadorim by João Guimarães Rosa. After a little discussion with Tom (Amateur Reader) who pointed out that Diadorim was compared to Ulysses whereas the French blurbs refers to La Chanson de Roland, I decided to let it gather some more dust on the TBR shelf. It’s still a mystery to me as to how a same book can attract so different comparisons as Ulysses and La Chanson de Roland but it only reinforces the idea that I’m definitely not a literary critic. It’s the only book of the challenge I haven’t started and won’t start. I’m considering removing it from the TBR shelf without a try.

4. A book that paralyses one with dread.

I immediately thought of René by Chateaubriand. I also read Atala, it was in the same book. Hmm. It’s the kind of book I’m glad I’ve read but didn’t exactly enjoy. However, I found Chateaubriand’s prose less bombastic than expected and I’m now very interested in his memoirs. But they are so HUGE that I’d better finish In Search of Lost Time before starting them.

5. Investigate a canonical writer hitherto most shamefully overlooked.

My choice for this one was Life’s Little Ironies by Thomas Hardy. Un vrai coup de Coeur. (A blow of heart, that’s how we say in French). This was a great discovery; I read The Mayor of Casterbridge after this one and now I’m on a reading project to read all Thomas Hardy. So there’s a Reading Thomas Hardy page to this blog. The next one I’ll read is Desperate Remedies; the title in itself is full of promises.

6. Seek out a book by an author who has earned ostracism by being so good that any further novel could surely never measure up…?

I decided to eventually read Les particules élémentaires by Michel Houellebecq. Well, I’ve also read Extension du domaine de la lutte (Whatever, in English). I don’t see why everybody raves about him but I must be one of those obtuse and old-fashioned readers who can’t detect a contemporary genius when they meet one.

7. And the opposite… That author who was supposed to be really good, but didn’t go down too well? Give him/her another go!

Les dieux ont soif by Anatole France. (The Gods Are Athirst). The man got the Nobel Prize but I think his prose didn’t age well. This historical novel takes place during the Terror, the terrible years when French revolutionaries guillotined wholeheartedly their fellow citizens. The ideas developed in the book were interesting but the style is dated and full of references now obscure to the common reader.

8. Take a chance. Read a book which you would rather not. For instance when the OH says ‘you’ll really like this’ and you’re thinking ‘no, I really won’t…’

Un roman français by Frédéric Beigbeder. I enjoyed reading this book although I suspect it won’t age well. Frédéric Beigbeder relates his childhood and his youth; I felt he let me enter his mind and it resulted in a strange review in the form of a letter to the author. I still can’t explain why this review came out this way; it felt right, that’s all I can say.

9. A book from an unfamiliar genre.

Of course, I had to choose SF for the unfamiliar genre, so I set my mind on The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells. I couldn’t finish it, I didn’t like his style and I tried to read him in French and in English. I think I was thorough enough in my approach to justify the abandonment. And you know what? I don’t feel guilty at all…

10. Ask a friend (preferably a person of impeccable taste, and definitely not someone who might have an axe to grind) to choose a book that you will, in their opinion, like. (This does not mean ask a dozen people until you get the right answer!)

I asked Guy to pick a book for me. He chose The Ladies from St Petersburg by Nina Berberova. I knew her as she was fashionable in France in the 1980s. The publisher Actes Sud discovered her and everybody was reading her books. She’s worth discovering; her style is fresh and original. If you’ve never read her, try this short novella. Thanks Guy for the good choice.

In the end, the hell turned into heaven with Life’s Little Ironies and The Custom of the Country. The French books –except for Proust—weren’t bad but not engrossing and at least I learnt something. The SF experience wasn’t good, but I won’t give entirely on the genre. The page dedicated to the challenge will be deleted, I’m sorry for the kind fellow bloggers who left comments there, they will disappear with it. I’m curious to read other participant’s wrap-ups if they plan to write one.

Categories: Challenges, Personal Posts
  1. December 10, 2011 at 8:06 am

    The only readalong-challenge event I participated in in 2011 was the German Literature month, and I’m very glad I decided to join in. It sounds as though you had some surprises with your challenge. I thought you’d love Wharton if you gave Custom of the Country another go. And then you also discovered that the unfamiliar genre may be unfamiliar for a good reason.

    I’ve yet to write my Whatever review. In fact I’m re-reading the novel before I write the review as so much time has passed.I’m underwhelmed by it–I liked parts of it a lot, but others….

    Overall, it sounds as though your reading challenge proved to be well worth it.


    • December 10, 2011 at 10:30 am

      I thought Wharton was the kind of writer I should like, that’s why I didn’t give up.

      You’re re-reading Whatever for the sole purpose of writing a blog review of a book you didn’t enjoy? I’m impressed. Doesn’t it deserve a short Veni-Vidi-Vici review? I’m really looking forward to reading your thoughts. I suspect there’s a snobbery in saying “Houellebecq is a genius” more than an actual taste for his literature.

      It was worth it and light to do as I could read the books when I felt like to.


      • December 10, 2011 at 6:16 pm

        Well Emma one of the things that interests me is why Max Barry works and why Houellebecq doesn’t (I’m talking specifically about the portrayal of the work place/corporate environment).


        • December 10, 2011 at 6:28 pm

          Easy: Barry doesn’t take himself seriously while Houellebecq does. I think you’d rather read criticism of our societies in a light tone or through crime fiction.


          • December 11, 2011 at 12:06 am

            You’re right. Humour always works much more powerfully for me.


  2. December 10, 2011 at 9:33 am

    9 out of 10 is a good result. I’m not a challenge person but this wasn’t a challenge like some see on the web. I might have been able to read a few as well and some categories as well.
    Oh Hardy… I really wanted to read at least one of his books this year and I’m slightly puzzled by my reaction. You love him, Guy loves him, Tony loves him yet every time Ipick up one of his books I feel as if somene asked me to swallow a very nasty medecine.
    I saw that Tony doesn’t get along with Henry James and now my alarm bells ring even louder.
    Henry James is one of my favourite writers, one of those I want to read everything and one of his books is a Top 10…
    Maybe a reason why I think I might not like him is the fact that I do not like books set in the country so much… I like city books… On the other hand I like the Brontës…


    • December 10, 2011 at 10:37 am

      I don’t think I’ll read Diadorim in the next years.

      The challenge gave me a kick to start books I had or writers I wanted to discover.

      About Hardy. I’ve started Desperate Remedies; it was his first book. (I’m reading them in chronological order). I can tell he’s not at his bet but I still love him for his musings about life. He speaks to me like few writers do. His books aren’t “country books” in the sense of George Sand or George Eliot wrote country books. Maybe you could try Life’s Little Ironies as you enjoy reading short-stories.

      I want to read more Henry James too. I have The Aspern Papers and The Ambassador in mind.


    • December 10, 2011 at 6:14 pm

      Which Hardy books did you try Caroline?


      • December 11, 2011 at 8:46 am

        None, Guy, that’s the thing, it is in my head. I never manage more than the first page. I’ve had Tess for over ten years and The Mayor of Casterbrdige since a few months. By the time I really start, I can skip the first page because I will know it by heart by then…


  3. December 10, 2011 at 9:57 am

    What a wonderful challenge – I think anyone would find that really difficult – but some of the authors you have chosen make is even more difficult. I tried Houellebecq and decided he was not for me.

    Thomas Hardy was a great novelist of course and I hope you enjoy reading them – but to read them all is something few English people would do – I have only read about six of them I think, with Far From the Madding Crowd being best in my view. I love the way he let’s his characters change over time – you see the rise of some and the casting down of others.

    Here is the link to the sponsored police car – http://goo.gl/Hsq1J That would never happen in France I am sure.


    • December 10, 2011 at 10:42 am

      So far I haven’t met a book blogger who raves about Houellebecq. Maybe that’s because I only follow blogs of like-minded people.

      More than the characters, what I love in Hardy is his vision of life.

      Thanks for the link. Sponsoring isn’t in our culture. With what happened during WWII, the Parisian events during the war in Algeria, May 1968 and various other violent encounters between police forces and citizens, I can’t imagine a French sponsoring a police car. It’s not in our culture at all.
      Can you imagine Fred Vargas paying for a police car tattooed “Commissaire Adamsberg”?


      • December 13, 2011 at 10:36 pm

        We Brits have a sort of cosy feeling about the police – there was a series on BBC back in the 50s and 60s called Dixon of Dock Green which featured an avuncular police man who solved everyone’s problems.


        • December 14, 2011 at 11:02 am

          As much as the French love Maigret, Navarro, Julie Lescaut , the French version of CSI and the like (all TV series with the police), they still sometimes yell “CRS-SS” in demonstrations. That’s us, full of contradictions.


  4. December 10, 2011 at 10:47 pm

    I would like to introduce you to a book blogger who raves (judiciously) about Michel Houellebecq.


    • December 10, 2011 at 11:05 pm

      Fascinating article thanks. I agree with what is written about the two books I’ve read. Interesting, unpleasant, full of ideas but poor literary style that made my reading labored. I don’t find him innovative; Martin Amis has done it all before and better.


  5. December 12, 2011 at 8:50 am

    I would like to continue reading Proust in 2012 – I’m a little embarrassed that after reading the first volume, I didn’t get any further this year…

    Hardy, of course, is always a good read, and I’ve got three or four works on my shelves waiting to be read (or reread!).

    I’ve always been intrigued by Houellebecq too, and I’d like to try something of his (in French, bien sur!). What would you recommend as a first book? Or wouldn’t you? Judging by your comments above, you probably wouldn’t!


    • December 12, 2011 at 9:08 am

      Proust is marvelous but you need good reading time to enjoy him. The second volume and the last one are my favorite, I think. You’ll read a wonderful picture of adolescence.
      Hardy was one of my discoveries this year.
      Honestly, read Proust, Gary and Balzac before Houellebecq. He’s interesting but I don’t think he deserves all the praise he gets.


  6. TBM
    December 13, 2011 at 5:30 pm

    I read Hardy’s Return of the Native this year and I fell in love with his writing. I’ll check out your page!


    • December 13, 2011 at 5:54 pm

      Thanks for dropping by.
      I see I’m not the only fan.


  7. January 16, 2012 at 12:30 am

    Great list! I am glad that you enjoyed the Hardy and the Proust, and had some fun with this. Nobody would seriously want to wish reading hell on another!


    • January 16, 2012 at 9:38 am

      Most of the books were on the TBR. The challenge pushed them at its top. I had fun doing this.


  1. January 16, 2012 at 12:38 am

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