“Disappointment” has got to be one of the saddest words in the English language. If you want to upset me, just tell me you’re disappointed by something; it goes beyond mere sadness as there’s the implication of the delighted anticipation that preceded the blow, which renders the ensuing despondency so much worse. To feel let down by a book is a particularly hideous experience since more often than not you will have had a pretty long wait for it. The absolute worst scenario of all though is when an author you’ve previously loved comes up with a book that, well, you just don’t.
I’m currently reading “4321” by Paul Auster and although I’d deliberately avoided any reviews before I started it I’d already heard a number of people say they weren’t particularly keen on it. As it happens, I’m completely hooked and think it’s the best novel he’s written in ages, but prior to this, he was one of the authors who’d started to disappoint me. I devoured his early books with the fervour of someone who’s discovered a new religion, but as the years went by and I caught up with his writing so I was reading in tandem with his new releases I found I was increasingly disenchanted, feeling that somehow he was producing Auster-by-numbers, novels lacking the spark and sharpness of their predecessors. I’m terrible, however, for giving even the least deserving people in my life second (and third and fourth) chances, and I couldn’t bring myself to give up on him entirely, a decision that I’m relieved to say is so far proving to be justified.
So which other authors have disappointed me? Well, one of the big ones recently was Donna Tartt; “The Secret History” is one of my favourite books of all time and “The Little Friend” was a more than worthy successor, but “The Goldfinch”? Fragmented, verging on tedious in places and WAY too long, it was for me one of the most crushing literary let-downs ever. It wouldn’t have been such a soul-destroying experience of course had she not been so outstanding before, but I can only imagine the pressure such a lauded novelist like that must be under, especially when their books have close to a decade between them. Iain Pears’ “The Dream of Scipio” was another case of the curse of having to follow a masterpiece (in this case “An Instance of the Fingerpost”) although, like the back in favour Mr Auster, he redeemed himself in my eyes with the mind-bending “Stone’s Fall”. Then there’s Muriel Barbery, whose remarkable novel “The Elegance of the Hedgehog” made an impression on me intellectually and emotionally that I never expected, but whose later novel “The Lives of Elves” proved to be a bemusing and ultimately for me unfinishable quasi-fairytale that bore almost no resemblance to its predecessor. Hats off to her for doing something totally different, but it wasn’t for me.
The more I look at my bookshelves the more I see little disappointments, most of them not on the level of Goldfinch-gate, but let-downs nonetheless. So I’m going to call time on this blog post before it descends into a simmering cauldron of negativity – and let’s not forget that, as experience shows, one less than enjoyable book doesn’t condemn an author for ever! – but I’d love to hear what your biggest bookish disappointments were. Are there any that still sting years later? Or do you disagree with me and think “The Goldfinch” is Donna Tarrt’s most enjoyable novel? Either way I’d love to hear your thoughts so do share!