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Old 10 May 2016, 11:15 AM
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Richard W Richard W is offline
Join Date: 19 February 2000
Location: High Wycombe, UK
Posts: 26,408

If I do give in and go for somewhat critically acclaimed books that I thought were actually bad, I suppose I'd start with Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer. Almost everything about it annoyed me, from the completely unconvincing "nine year old" (I think) narrator - who it was mentioned in passing is supposed to spend the whole book dressed only in white and banging a tambourine everywhere he went - to the heavy-handed messages and comparisons, to the idea that it was supposed to be a mystery of some sort but there appeared to be absolutely no depth to it at all. I couldn't even tell whether the narrator was supposed to be unreliable, or was just badly written.

Also - and this is not an example, but I think it may once have been - I'm currently reading the first volume of Stephen King's Dark Tower series, The Gunslinger. My edition is the rewritten one from 2003, with forewords that King wrote after he got hit by the van and decided he needed to get on and finish the series, and it's certainly not a bad book in the sense of this thread - I'm enjoying it. But everything I heard about the first volume of the series back in the eighties and nineties was that it was weird, hard to read, disconnected from the others and that you kind of needed to slog through it and get to the second one before you could appreciate the story. And the things King describes rewriting suggest (reading between the lines a bit) that he'd realised it had a lot of problems, he originally wrote it when he was still learning to be a good writer but might have been aiming too hard for "literature", and he cut out a lot of pretentious, overblown nonsense - as well as streamlining it and adding more foreshadowing and connections to the longer story.

I can see enough parts that he left in that suggest what he might have cut out - for example, the gunslinger uses Cockney slang in places, but uses it wrongly. He uses "gob" to mean "eye" when it means "mouth", and is constantly using "palaver" as though it means the same as "parley", when in fact it means a to-do, perhaps an argy-bargy or a bit of a ruckus.

Of course there's no reason for these words to mean the same thing in the story's universe as they do in English, but it's like King picked them for "colour" without quite understanding what they meant. Like if an English writer wanted an exotic word to describe a fried-egg sandwich and decided on "grits". That would be annoying to people from parts of the USA no matter how often you might try to say "but grits are fried-egg sandwiches in this world!" (I'm not quite sure what grits are, but I know they're not fried-egg sandwiches). Or like the way George RR Martin seems to think that a rasher of bacon is a side of bacon, perhaps... maybe in the USA "rasher" is an uncommon word for "a large, indeterminate amount of bacon", but in the UK it's a common word with a specific meaning that's different from the one Martin uses, and I get the impression that Martin is using it because he thinks it's an unusual word that sounds suitably historic, rather than because it actually means something different in the USA.

Anyway, the rewritten Gunslinger is a pretty decent read so far, and I'm looking forward to the rest of the series, but I can see that in its original version I might have thought it was terrible.
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