The worst book I’ve ever read


I realise that’s a contentious title, but I have to come clean about the last book we read in Book Club.

It was awful. No, worse than awful, it was dreadful. Hang on, scratch dreadful. In fact, the more I think about it, it was fucking abysmal.

Last month’s book was Life: A user’s guide by George Perec. If you’ve read this book and loved it, it’s probably best that you look away now or, better still, reply at the foot of the post explaining why I’m a foolish thrill seeker looking for fun where there clearly is none and deep meaning where there is monotony. If, on the other hand, you’ve read this and hated it – read on and enjoy the vitriol.

But seriously, this book sucked. Big time. Never have I read a book so diametrically opposed to engaging the reader with the author adopting an almost unreadable modernist style that meant every single page was the hardest reading yards I’ve ever done. There was no dialogue whatsoever, no light and shade in his writing – just shade. Page after page of tedious descriptive text which to give him some credit was moderately interesting, in an autistic obsessive kind of way.

The book paints a ludicrously detailed picture of a Parisian apartment building and all the people who live in it. That in itself would have been a feat I can tell you, but Perec decides to not only tell those stories but those of every other family that has ever lived there. It would have been one of the great feats of modern literature for the author to pull this off this vast tableau of stories successfully. But unfortunately for me, he didn’t.

And then there was the size. The sheer number of pages the book took to unfold its layers of tediousity mocked me daily. We make a point of not de-selecting books if they are large – in fact some of the best books we have ever read scared us with the point size of the book or the page count. But Perec took page count to a whole new level of tedium, filling the pages with meaningless drivel and thankfully page after page of OCD type lists that could be skipped easily (and by the way, his style of writing meant there weren’t many opportunities to skip pages, believe you me I did try).

So were there any positives? As ever, the evening discussion inevitably led to some insight and enlightenment for me. But to be honest I wasn’t buying it. There weren’t any scores above 5/10 which is rare, bottoming out with my big fat zero – which is a first for me, king of the optimists. Some of the other chaps were gamely digging out gems that gave the author far too much leeway and whilst I accept the writing style, subject matter and sheer quantity was a major barrier to my getting anything out of this experience, my failure to connect was in itself ¬†interesting and hilarious in equal measure.

Under no circumstances read this book, or attempt to read this book. It’s hours of your life that will never, ever come back.

By the way, this is what the author looks like – I rest my case.



4 thoughts on “The worst book I’ve ever read

  1. I had a very good time reading your review but then scrolling down to this picture gave me a huge laugh. Thanks for that. When you said it was horrible, I went to amazon and read the opening. It’s too wordy. But at least the writing is adequately literate. Read some of the novels (ok I’ve read only one, at jury duty, lesson learned) of the highly popular Jane Green. Her writing is godawful. Yet people love the crap she writes. None of it rings true. Whether Life-bla-bla-bla had any truth, I don’t know. But I do agree it was too wordy.

    In college I took many psych classes and they had a pretty distinguished psych dept, but in my mind it was distinguished by the fact that all the profs seemed to suffer from afflictions relating directly to their specialty. The abnormal psych guy, an XYY (is that right, been decades) type, used to lumber into the room, crash into the wastebasket, excuse himself to the bin, and then begin–every single class. The verbal learning specialist couldn’t speak a sentence without inserting bunches of synonyms for virtually every word. It was monstrous to hear and very hard to decipher. Not sure if he had commitment issues or was smacked too many times by a nun with a heavy dictionary. So perhaps the handsome fellow above was in the psych field. They’re all too wordy–what I call tourists in the land of emotion.

  2. Now that’s a phrase I do like Nancy – Tourists in the land of emotion!

    You do have a point about the book, it is actually very well written and I do think the author is a decent writer but he’s just decided to do a ‘thing’. I’m sure it’s an experimental art project whose aim is test the patience of the reader to the point of destruction, but I’m going off on one again!

  3. Loved this review Phil and the verbal version of it you delivered at the book club was a thing of genius. This was such a strange book and while no doubt testing I’m so glad we read it as, is so often the case, the debate and discussion was superb. This was a tough tough read, not because it’s poorly written as it’s not it’s the whole structure and point (or lack of point) that tests. There is no doubt he is playing with the concept of the novel (don’t forget he has written a whole novel without the letter E in it) but it did have a quitely powerful effect on me and left me ruminating considerably on what life is.

  4. As ever Ian, the discussion around the book on the night was hugely insightful. I accept I may have over egged the hyperbole around my review – but whilst I did find some interesting arguments around the table, I cannot forgive the author for his sheer wilfulness. I think Gurdev made the most salient point: It’s a French thing.

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