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!