How do you feel about abandoning a book mid-way? With fiction in particular, I try not to give up on a book and do my best to read all the way through to the end, even if I’m not enjoying it. Part of the reason is that after investing a certain amount of time into a story and its characters, I’d like to see how things turn out. Another reason is that I don’t feel that I’m able to properly discuss – let alone “review” – a book if I haven’t read it cover to cover. Not only might there be important plot elements left unread, but if you stop reading halfway (or even 3/4s) there is still ample room for the writer to twist the story around, or to say something that might grab your attention and make you re-think what you’ve just read. The last line of the book can be just as crucial as the first, and often it can influence how you interpret the overall tone of the book. In particular I’m thinking of Charles Willeford’s Pick-Up.
Recently I’ve been trying to read China Mieville’s The City and The City, which came highly recommended from a good friend, whose taste and opinions I admire, but also who knows the type of books that I enjoy. Previously she turned me on to John Franklin Bardin, who is now one of my favorite writers. So, I eagerly jumped into The City and The City and found myself entranced by its Quantum Physics/Police Procedural fusion. At first, that is. But the more I read on, the more frustrated I became with not only the book’s forced blend of reality/unreality, but also the belabored language which felt repetitive and wordy.
The premise of the novel is that it takes place in a fictional European city – rather, two cities, Besźel and Ul Qoma, which occupy the same geographical location but which are separate worlds. The citizens have been trained to “unsee” the other world, since they share the same space. It is highly illegal to “see” through the divide and see the other city, which means that to “breach” and cross-over without proper authorization is a most severe crime. But when a young female student is found murdered, the police begin to think that “breach” was involved, and they have to cross over to continue their investigation.
I tried for a week to finish the book, but couldn’t muster the enthusiasm to open it even while waiting on the subway. While I really loved the quasi-sci-fi atmosphere of the story, I found that there were just excessive amounts of detail about the location, and not enough about the characters or the story. The author would always interrupt the flow to tell us something more about the cities, which is often interesting but not always essential. After a certain point I had my own image of the two cities and was ready to dive into the story – but the writer didn’t seem to want to trust the readers to use their own imagination. By spelling everything out, the novel began to lose its magic and mystery.
So, halfway through, I had to stop. I returned the book to my friend, thanked her for the recommendation but was honest about how I felt. We had a nice chat about it, and I think we both see each other’s point of view. While I didn’t care for this book so much, I do look forward to more recommendations from my friend.
How do you feel about stopping a book halfway through? Has anyone read The City and The City? Perhaps I’m missing out on the best part.
By the way, this post is a partial explanation of why I haven’t written much on the blog over the past week. I have a couple books read and another almost finished, and I’ll be reviewing those shortly.