The Tough Get Going

I don’t know about you, but when I read a book I don’t like, I stop read­ing it. Who but the most per­verse of souls would read on to the end? Professional book review­ers, that’s who. There’s a big dif­fer­ence, obvi­ously, between the reviews I do and those pro­duced pro­fes­sion­ally. For me there’s noth­ing to be lost by giv­ing up on a book (in fact, only time to be gained). I also have a vague feel­ing at my core that I should be help­ing to pro­mote oth­er writers, not hinder them.

So — partly as a break from the laugh-out-loud fun­fest of my rol­lick­ing new, fresh and innov­at­ive nov­el — I got up early this morn­ing and wrote a review of ‘A Certain Chemistry’ by Mil Millington. You might remem­ber Millington as the author of, deep breath, ‘Things My Girlfriend and I Have Argued About’. Building on the suc­cess of his web­site, TMGAIHAA is the fic­tion­al story of rela­tion­ship between Pel, and IT man­ager, and his German girl­friend, Ursula. It would be uncon­tro­ver­sial to say that Pel is a suit­ably-fic­tion­al­ized ver­sion of Millington, and Ursula like­wise Millington’s girl­friend. I was going to write a review of TMGAIHAA but couldn’t quite resolve my feel­ings about it; on first read­ing it, I was extremely dis­ap­poin­ted. Having expec­ted a stonk­ing nov­el from a young, high-cal­ibre com­edy writer with a clear tal­ent for The Gag, I found a nov­el of amus­ing situ­ations sel­lo­taped onto a wonky sub-Lock Stock plot involving tri­ads and some oth­er rub­bish I for­get. I gave up on the nov­el and told my (German) girl­friend not to both­er read­ing it, des­pite her hav­ing loved both the web­site and Millington’s Guardian column. She did, though, but only got a few pages in before the story-shaped hole in the book caused her to put it down.

A few months later, I came back to it in one of those des­per­ate moments when I find myself without a book to read. To my sur­prise, I chuckled away. Then I laughed. The book came alive again. I inter­pret this as sud­den drop in expect­a­tion. I for­got that I was read­ing fic­tion, where a char­ac­ter would nor­mally under­go a jour­ney of some kind, and my prob­lems with the book evap­or­ated. So it’s a series of vign­ettes, I thought. It ain’t a story. And it’s OK.

So, am I wrong to give up on read­ing a nov­el when the going gets shit? I don’t think so. But the expect­a­tions that I bring to a book cer­tainly influ­ence how I per­ceive it. No doubt I enjoyed ‘A Certain Chemistry’ much more than I would have done if I didn’t class Millington as a writer who can be funny in pieces but not handle a book-length nar­rat­ive. However, ‘A Certain Chemistry’ is pretty well put togeth­er as a book, and I can recom­mend it. Yes, indeed, my high expect­a­tions have bounced back. What a fickle char­ac­ter is the read­er!

Author: Ian Hocking

Writer and psychologist.

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