This blog post is sponsored by the nope train. All aboard!
Okay, so first of all, a disclaimer: apart from the first and last 150 pages or so, I skim read and skipped over a lot of this book (you’ll understand why if you get that far into it). This is just my opinion on what I could force myself to read.
Prose or plot?
No book is perfect. You’ll always find that the writer is varying degrees of great or terrible at plot, prose, characterisation, world building and show vs tell. But for me, a good story needs to have a coherent plot and interesting, believable, characters.
I like stories that open with a bang and drag you straight into the story. This is not one of those books.
The first 100 or so pages of this overlong book focused on introducing the four central characters, giving you no real idea as to the point of the story beyond four dull, mildly annoying blokes – three of whom were in a continual state of hyper-awareness and awe of the fourth.
I get that some people see writing as an art form. But reading, for me at least, is about entertainment and escapism. If I keep flicking forward to check how many pages I have left to get through until the next chapter, it’s not doing its job.
720 pages. Really?
By page 114 I had a good idea about what the four main characters were like (four men in a perpetual state of existential angst). But, I found it hard to distinguish one from the other. Losing track of who did what, or who thought what about someone else 20 pages ago when it was their part of the story.
Then other random walk-by characters would and go, sometimes referred to by their initials and talked about for a few pages before vanishing and then leaving me thinking, “okay, where was I?” I ended up using a bit of paper with character notes on it as a bookmark.
At times the book frustrated me. I’d find myself pulled into the narrative, only for the writer to interrupt it by flashing back to years earlier. This happened several times. I know you’re finding this interesting¸ the writer says, but let me take you back to this party three years ago where…
Telling, not showing
A lot of telling goes on in this book. The problem is, this story is pretty far-fetched anyway. Somehow, we’re to believe that this guy, who is just presented as a bit weird for the first 100 or so pages, is universally adored. He’s treated like some sort of saint who can do no wrong. The characters around him appear to live their lives just because they’re part of the Jude support team.
Added to this, the way the writer tells us everything, rather than shows us, creates a distance with the narrative and the characters. I felt no emotional connection to what I was reading – until that chapter and then all I felt was disgust.
The last few hundred pages are much better, and more emotional, but it’s because something interesting happens. Something Jude has to react to. Yet the tendency to tell and not show still dampens the impact of the story here.
The breaking point
So after around a hundred or so pages of not much happening, other than four worried men having the occasional chat, something changes. Ten pages of abject horror and misery from the past of one of the characters.
It was dumped on the reader without much warning. It was clearly designed to be sensational and jarring. The issue is, if you’ve not built up any sort of emotional connection to the characters, or any real interest in the story, what happens in these ten pages just seems ridiculous.
It’s pretty easy to horrify and disgust people, but if they aren’t connected to the story or the characters, it just comes off as tragedy porn. The story isn’t dependent on this gruesomeness and including it on such a grandiose scale (it gets much worse later in the book) is likely to make many people turn away from the story for good.
There’s so much about the story that isn’t believable: Andy (the doctor-friend bit character) who should clearly be struck off, Jude’s entire childhood (I mean, seriously, what the hell?), Jude’s entire adulthood, the way the friendships are portrayed, the fact that none of the characters develop any sort of emotional maturity…it’s just too much.
This is one of those books that some people just have to stop reading, and I don’t blame them.