Ever since I blogged about what a reader may take against in 1st person narrative, I’ve found the idea of reader chemistry nagging away at me. Why are some words so loaded for one person, and totally neutral for another?
But I never meant to blog about it so quickly.
But then, as some of you will know, I was struck down by a monster virus. I couldn’t stop shivering. Or coughing.
I went from bed to fireside and back again, accompanied by regularly refreshed hot water bottles and The Companion Cat.
I had absolutely no physical energy. All I wanted to do was read. But I was quite likely to fall asleep in the middle of a page.
And I’d become very, VERY picky about the books I was willing to pick up. And not at all in the usual way. WHY?
Reader Chemistry Memory
Looking back, I realise that this has happened to me before. The first time that I can actually remember was before I went to school. Someone had given me a Noddy book. I didn’t care for it –mainly because it was too short. I’d no sooner started it, than it was over.
But there was one scene that I suddenly found fascinating. Noddy had a boiled egg for breakfast. I got my mother, who hated reading aloud, to read it to me. Every day. For the whole three weeks that bronchitis took me in those days.
Maybe it was because my throat was so sore, I could barely swallow and the idea of a breakfast egg was a paradise of normality. Certainly, Noddy went back on the shelf, the moment I was better.
Only then bronchitis came round again the following January and, hey presto, boiled egg readings were back on the menu again! My poor mother. But she stuck with it, like a Trojan.
Reader Chemistry Revelation
So I was’t really surprised, when I rejected a number of books waiting on my (massive) list to be read. Fair enough, I wasn’t in the mood. for Regency highjacks, dark adventure or Gothic mystery.
What astonished me, though, was that I picked up a book I had been struggling with. For weeks. And the reader chemistry was truly ba-a-ad.
I’m apologising right now, because the title has to remain a Mystery, at least for the moment. This piece is about a reaction which surprised me. It’s not about the book.
It got onto my TBR pile courtesy of a dear friend, with whom I share some, but not all, of my reading tastes. He actually brought it round and pressed his copy into my hands as a Must Read. He was vague about why.
To be fair, he did say, “It takes some getting into. Give it 50 pages and see how you feel.” The cover carried some impressive review quotes. It had been short listed for major prizes.
Three weeks virus-free and i had started the book four times. I had to keep starting again because I forgot what had happened. Largely because nothing much had.
i’d read it in bed, in the bath, with lunch, after the end of the working day with a glass in my hand… A blank. To say I didn’t engage was an understatement. It left me blank.
Reader Chemistry – Feelings
Well, actually, I did have a few feelings. Mild irritation at the typography. Who publishes a whole novel double spaced?
Some impatience with the author’s rejection of punctuating speech in the traditional way.
Actual physical discomfort with the paragraphs. There weren’t any. When the author went from people to a blackbird foraging, I fell over my feet every time. I needed that new paragraph.
Though I suppose that does answer my first question. If you’re trying to make an avalanche of text less threatening, you have to find the white space somewhere.
Feelings, yes. Not strong ones. And I still hadn’t made the 50-page mark.
Slow Burn Reaction
I have no idea why I picked it up again, when I fell prey to The Virus. But suddenly I was sitting by the fire all day and I’d got through 50 pages, almost without noticing.
I began to see beauties – tiny little moments, perfectly caught; a sense of the slow-wheeling seasons; a measured, unemphatic narrative, where crises might be caught in a flash of stormlight, but then fell away as the world turned.
There is no protagonist but a host of people, observed, fleetingly, as we do observe the people we live among and often fail to understand. There is no story, but many stories, which the reader may infer, or not, as he choses. The author is a master of finding the perfect detail. There is a marvellous feeling for the natural world.
It was – is– hypnotic. I am still reading it.
Will I get to the end? I don’t know. Maybe it will depend on how long I have a temperature. Maybe not.
Many reviewers thought this novel was extraordinary. They could just be right.