I used to make it a point of principle that I finished every book I started. It seemed wrong to not see books through to the bitter, boring, heavy or miserable end. Reading Clarissa is a lot like running a marathon. Hours have been invested, money has been spent, to stop now would be to throw all that effort in the bin, not matter how much you want to slap that ridiculous woman and her evil family.
However, as a polyreader, I have so many books on the go, I can always tell the ones I’d like to give up on, as they are indefinitely loitering in the in-progress pile by my bed, their bookmarks taking root, new books keeping them low in the stack, until they eventually fossilize. But when these neglected books are from the library, I am forced to make a choice—get to the end soon or take them back. These two books have been returned, unfinished-
The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry – There is nothing wrong with this book, the characters, the atmosphere, it’s all there. I just wasn’t gripped. I got about half of the way through, so that shows it’s not awful, but after not reading it for a few nights, I just never went back. I still don’t know if there is an actual serpent or if it’s just a metaphor, and now I never will. When I searched the online catalogue there were nine people waiting for this book, and so like someone who has a full trolley, I took it back to let someone just holding a box of teabags go ahead of me.
Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro – I got about three-quarters of the way through of this one. I also kept it much longer, knowing there were less fellow library members waiting to get hold of it, and because I thought I might get it finished one day. I had been eager to read this, having just read The Remains Of The Day at the time, and while it was fascinating, I got the feeling it was about to get any happier. It’s about the interpersonal relationships of people who are bred for their organs, and the weird, isolated world of the donors’ boarding school. Their strange efforts to grow up with extremely limited external influences, and then, their experiences of living in the real world, and caring for fellow donors while they die piece by piece, knowing that is ahead for them. Plot is important in the urge to complete a book, plus an enjoyment of the writing and an appreciation of the atmosphere, and the last part was missing for me. Sometimes our lives are not in the right place to read certain books. What with the politics of the world at the time, along with the suspicion that we’re more likely to all be cooked by global warming before we start farming clones, this book found itself passed over for Mapp and Lucia and Alan Bennett’s Keeping On Keeping On, because sometimes a gal needs a village busybody and a garden party, and Alan’s perspective on life with the odd anecdote about Maggie Smith chucked in.