Home > 2000, 21st Century, Abandoned books, Book Club, Novel, Science Fiction, Turkish Literature > 20 Books of Summer #8 and #9 : two books I couldn’t finish

20 Books of Summer #8 and #9 : two books I couldn’t finish

Snow by Orhan Pamuk (2002) French title: Neige. Translated by François Pérouse. // La Horde du Contrevent by Alain Damasio. (2006) Not available in English.

I can’t say I got along with our two last Book Club reads, Snow by Orhan Pamuk and La Horde du Contrevent by Alain Damasio. (Not available in English and a literal translation would be The Shutter Troopers) In both cases, I read around 120-150 pages before giving up, I think I’ve given them a fair chance.

Let’s start with Snow. The character Ka –sounds like he’s coming of a Dino Buzzati novel—arrives in the provincial town of Kars, in Turkey. It’s winter and snowing. He’s back in his country after living in Germany for a decade. He’s a published poet and he’s sent to Kars as a reporter to investigate the suspicious suicides of young girls in the area. It’s also where his former university classmate Ipek lives. He had a vague crush on her back then and now he thinks she could be marriage material.

I know that Orhan Pamuk got the Nobel Prize of Literature and that Snow is a well-acclaimed novel. I just didn’t get along with it. I thought that the constant religious discussions were too long and boring and I found the relationship between Ka and Ipek implausible.

It’s the kind of book I should have liked and I’m sure it tells lots of interesting things about Turkey but I was really struggling. I asked the other Book Club members how they were doing with it and the one answer I got was that the last 200 pages were a little boring. Since the first 100 pages were already plenty boring to me, I made the decision to stop reading it. I couldn’t push through the 500 pages left. I was just bored.

It’s obviously a good book, just not one for me. Or perhaps I read it at the wrong time.

 

Now The Shutter Troopers. It’s SF, so really out of my comfort zone and I was apprehensive to tackle these 730 pages of hardcore SF, not even dystopian fiction. Think of Dune.

The first chapter threw me off. Humans are in a life-threatening wind tempest in a décor of rammed earth houses and Australian bush. The author is from Lyon and rammed earth houses are typical from the Dauphiné region, between Lyon and Grenoble. Since the landscape was made of red earth, spinifex, eucalypti and oaks, I thought about Australia. Images of my in-laws’ village clashed in my head with images of Uluru.

The structure of the book is unusual. The chapters go from XIX to I. The main characters are described in a glossary at the end of the book, something I’ve just discovered. The characters speak one after each other and are represented by Greek symbols. You never know who’s speaking unless you click on the symbol (ebook) or refer to the characters bookmark (paper book). The POV changes several times per chapter.

I have the ebook version and I hated clicking on the symbol because it broke my reading flow, so I stopped checking. (It would have been the same with the paperback anyway) I didn’t always know who was speaking and I spent the few chapters I read trying to understand what I was reading. French speaking readers will understand what I mean with this quote: “Les chrones les plus petits ont le volume d’un gorce. Les plus gros pourraient tenir dans la doline.”

I asked about La Horde du Contrevent to French readers on Twitter and got the same answers. It takes half of the book to really get into it; you have to read it in few sittings to really manage to enter into the book’s world and you need the book bookmark to follow who’s speaking but after 350 pages, it’s getting better. I also asked what it was about and the most accurate description was that it’s about a sort of rugby team who travels the Earth to find out where the wind comes from. It’s a spiritual quest.

The thing is, I don’t have the luxury to read 730 pages in one or two sittings, even on holiday. It got on my nerves not to be able to understand whose POV I was reading, even if the characters have distinct voices. I believe I would have recognized them in the end. But there are 23 troopers. How long would it have taken me to spot each character through their voice? Russian novels are piece of cake after that, believe me. Each trooper has a role in the team and it’s hard to assimilate as well since these roles are totally imaginary.

Call me conservative but I don’t think I should refer to a bookmark for the names of the characters when I’m reading. All this irritated me, got in the way of my immersion in Damasio’s world. And, honestly, it’s a pity. He’s insanely creative. His descriptions are precise, poetic and visual. He imagined a coherent world with rules and inhabitants and I’m sure that for some readers, it’s a wonderful journey. But Damasio is too verbose for my tastes. I put the book down for a few days, thinking I’d get back to it. I tried to resume reading and I was put-off by the style. I wasn’t interested in knowing what would become of them and I wasn’t intrigued enough to push through the discomfort of feeling totally disoriented.

La Horde du Contrevent won the Grand Prix de l’Imaginaire in 2006, the Goncourt of SF. It’s rated 4.46 stars on Goodreads. My vision of it is only mine and says nothing about the quality of the book just that it wasn’t a good match for this reader.

This blog is not about reviewing books, it’s my reading journey, I share the good and the bad experiences.

  1. August 3, 2020 at 12:41 pm

    Snow was one of the favourite books of Susan Tiberghien, the founder of the Geneva Writers Group, so I bought a second-hand copy of it when I had a chance. I still haven’t read it, but I thought it might appeal (I quite liked some of his other writing). As for the fantasy/science fiction novel – I’ve always been surprised by how chunky they are (and usually made up of 10 volumes or something like that). How can the writers be so prolific and how can their readers have time to do anything else except read?

    Liked by 2 people

    • August 3, 2020 at 8:45 pm

      I’m curious to read what you think of Snow.

      I understand why La Horde du Contrevent is that thick. After all, the author needs to set up and explain a world totally different from ours. It makes sense. But for me it took too much time and the explanations were scattered here and there and it was hard to have a coherent picture of what was going on.
      The Vendredi Lecteurs who answered me also told me that it was a difficult book to read when you’re not used to reading SciFi.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. August 3, 2020 at 3:14 pm

    LOL Emma, I liked Snow, but I read it pre-blog, so I can’t tell you why!

    Like

    • August 3, 2020 at 8:49 pm

      LOL about the Australian bush/pisé village?

      About Snow: I can tell it’s a good book, just not for me.

      Like

  3. August 3, 2020 at 5:46 pm

    I too struggled with Snow and gave up on it , though at a much earlier point than you did. The story just seemed to meander without a lot of purpose. Boring? yes definitely i my view

    Like

    • August 3, 2020 at 8:52 pm

      Glad to hear I’m not the only one, especially since it won the Prix Médicis in France.

      Liked by 1 person

      • August 4, 2020 at 10:59 am

        It’s made me hesitant to read My Name is Red which is meant to be his best I think

        Liked by 1 person

        • August 5, 2020 at 9:36 am

          I’m not ready to start another of his books either.

          Like

  4. August 3, 2020 at 5:53 pm

    Sometimes we don’t like books, and that’s fine – it would be a dull life if we all liked the same. I don’t usually abandon a book, but I have recently, although I may go back to it…. Sci fi chunksters are definitely something I avoid nowadays, particularly if they end up as a series. I don’t have the time to commit, and often the quality falls off. Onward and upward – hopefully your next read will be better!

    Liked by 1 person

    • August 3, 2020 at 8:54 pm

      Now I don’t hesitate to abandon books, especially when they’re long. My reading time is too limited, I need to make the best of it.

      The Sci Fi one was not my choice but I thought it would be a way to get out of my literary comfort zone. Sadly, it didn’t work.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Vishy
    August 3, 2020 at 8:15 pm

    Sorry to know that these two books didn’t work for you, Emma. But I loved your billet 🙂 This passage – “the one answer I got was that the last 200 pages were a little boring. Since the first 100 pages were already plenty boring to me, I made the decision to stop reading it.” – and this passage – “I also asked what it was about and the most accurate description was that it’s about a sort of rugby team who travels the Earth to find out where the wind comes from. It’s a spiritual quest.” – made me smile 😁

    I don’t know it is with some of the science fiction these days, they are so thick. I tried reading a couple of Neal Stephenson’s books, and at one point I gave up after 200 pages, it was so thick! I haven’t read an Orhan Pamuk book yet, but was hoping to read ‘Istanbul’ and ‘My Name is Red’ sometime. Sorry to know that ‘Snow’ isn’t as good as you had hoped. Hope your next read is better.

    Like

    • August 3, 2020 at 8:58 pm

      I’m glad I made you smile. 🙂 Apparently, I made Lisa chuckle too, that’s an added benefit.

      Honestly, this Sci Fi book deserves to be that thick. There’s only one volume and the author takes us to a totally different world. He needs time to explain this world, his characters… The problem is that he does it in an unconventional way and the reader needs to pick up details and make things up in their head. My biggest issue was really with the change of POV all the time and the symbols to represent the characters. And there were a lot of them.

      Like

  6. August 4, 2020 at 10:59 am

    Like you and Caroline I also abandoned Snow. I think I just got bored.

    I do think SF and fantasy tends to bloat. I get there are new worlds to describe, but I think it’s also that SFF fans often judge value by width and it can lend itself to sprawl.

    Vishy, Stephenson is notorious for length even within SF, and for not knowing how to write endings. He’s good up to the end, but after 1,000 pages one does want the end to work as well…

    Like

    • August 5, 2020 at 7:46 am

      You too!

      I’d be interested to read your review of La Horde du Contrevent. For me it’s the kind of books you don’t know whether to scream “Genius” or “Fraud”. I don’t read SF, so I don’t think I’m qualified to make a valuable statement about it.

      Like

      • August 6, 2020 at 5:00 pm

        I’m afraid you may be waiting a while! My appetite for a 700+ page book of somewhat experimental SF is a bit limited at the moment…

        Like

        • August 6, 2020 at 5:13 pm

          The main issue here is that it’s not available in English. 😊

          Like

  7. August 4, 2020 at 6:50 pm

    I agree about the Ipek story being implausible (probably even undesirable for each of them!) and about those who say they lost interest at the end, although I didn’t count whether it was 200 pages before the end. Still, I enjoyed Ka as a character who always seems a bit dazed (I wondered how he survives in Germany), and I enjoyed the description – however fictionalised – of Kars and its population. I wouldn’t have read the book so soon had it not been for your book club, so thanks for that.

    Like

    • August 5, 2020 at 7:50 am

      Thanks for reading it along with us.

      I agree with you, from what I’ve seen of Ka, he’s in a perpetual fog. What an investigator he makes! I wondered the same thing about his living in Germany, especially when it’s said that he never made the effort to learn the language. (How you can live in a country for 11 years and not try to learn a bit of the local language is beyond me)

      Like

  8. August 4, 2020 at 11:10 pm

    I hated Snow years ago and gave up on it also. Didn’t find the main character’s actions or thought processes believable at all among other things.

    Like

    • August 5, 2020 at 7:54 am

      I’m really not the only one who didn’t like it. Thanks for the message, I always feel slightly guilty when I don’t like a book by a Nobel Prize winner. I always wonder what I missed.

      Like

  9. August 10, 2020 at 2:18 pm

    I really liked Snow, and have reviewed it on my blog. But your comment “I asked the other Book Club members how they were doing with it and the one answer I got was that the last 200 pages were a little boring. Since the first 100 pages were already plenty boring to me, I made the decision to stop reading it” made me laugh.

    You also said that “It’s obviously a good book, just not one for me. Or perhaps I read it at the wrong time.” That’s how I feel about the first Pamuk book I tired, “My name is red”. I just couldn’t get into it, but I think it’s obviously a good book, and I wonder whether I was just trying to read it at the wrong time. I still have it, just in case I decide to try it again.

    Like

    • August 12, 2020 at 7:32 am

      Glad I made you laugh. 🙂

      I tend to keep a “try-again” shelf in my head for books I didn’t like ou abandoned when I should have liked them because on paper they’re my type of book.

      Liked by 1 person

      • August 12, 2020 at 9:22 am

        Yes, me too – certainly not for those ones which you know really aren’t up your alley.

        Liked by 1 person

  1. August 31, 2020 at 10:32 pm

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