From the 1984 film version of A Passage to India.
Have you ever read a novel you contemplated not finishing but then things picked up? Such was the case last week with me and A Passage to India.
The first part of E.M. Forster’s 1924 novel was actually pretty good: beautifully/subtly written — with mostly non-stereotypical depictions of India’s citizens and interesting cross-cultural interactions between those citizens and characters from Great Britain, the colonial ruler over India back then. But there was endless talking and little happening in the way of plot, and I found my attention straying. Then — pow! — an unfair arrest happened and things got really compelling.
Of course, a plot development that dramatic is not always needed to make a book more interesting.
It also took me a while to warm to A Game of Thrones, the first installment of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series. It wasn’t that the writing wasn’t good — it was — but I was rather bewildered by the array of characters being introduced, the connections between those characters, and the fictional world being depicted. Then it came together, and I was hooked.
In short, the buffet had to be laid out and studied before the eating was enjoyed.
With Vladimir Nabokov’s Pale Fire, the structure of the novel made me consider throwing in the towel. Early on, the book was in the form of a long, at-times tedious poem. Then, Nabokov started using prose to offer clues about what was going on as he unraveled some of the puzzle he had set up. A novel almost totally devoid of warmth, but immensely clever.
Sometimes novels start with pages and pages of over-long descriptions of landscapes and buildings before characters are introduced and the plot begins to unfold. This is especially the case in older novels written during a pre-air-travel/pre-Internet time when most readers hadn’t actually or virtually seen most places, so authors had to fill in the blanks.
I’ll conclude by saying I HAVE abandoned some novels before finishing them — with few regrets. So many other fictional works to read instead. 🙂
Any novels you’d like to mention that started slow but picked up?
My literary-trivia book is described and can be purchased here: Fascinating Facts About Famous Fiction Authors and the Greatest Novels of All Time.
In addition to this weekly blog, I write the 2003-started/award-winning “Montclairvoyant” local topical-humor column for Baristanet.com. The latest weekly piece — about some interesting early-summer events — is here.