I rarely set aside books without finishing them - I do not DNF lightly. So when I do, I usually have rather strong feelings about it. This year, as far as I can recall, I have only set aside two novels. The first was Nicola Barker's The Burley Cross Postbox Theft. I had such high hopes for this - it is epistolary and about countryside village life, what's not to love? Apparently not much. I found the writing cliched and unfunny so I made the executive decision to return it to the library unread, comforting myself with the idea that there are plenty more fish in the sea.
Several weeks ago now, during one of my lunchtime expeditions to the Waterstones on Gower Street (heaven, I tell you), I treated myself to John Boyne's The Absolutist. Pegged as the new Birdsong, the cover is emblazoned with trench imagery with a very prominent sticker just emphasising again that it is the new Birdsong (damn you, clever marketing strategies). I am a sucker for Birdsong comparisons and trench imagery (I must be the marketer's idea of a dream audience). Obviously the visuals were not the only element that made me march up to the till and part so willingly with my money. Oh no, an intriguing blurb and opening page had something to do with it too. And, of course, Boyne's reputation. Whilst I have not read The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas I have heard its praises sung enough to warrant Boyne's place in the 'reputed writer' category in my head. Clearly fate was against me on that dingy (no doubt) day and all these factors converged to point me towards the till with The Absolutist in hand. Ah life, you cruel mistress.
Unusually, I began to read The Absolutist quite soon after purchasing it. I guess I was that excited. And what was I to discover? Oh look - battlefield secrets! Shell shock! Homoeroticism! Conscientious Objectors! A relationship between two soldiers that was bound to turn into more than what it seemed! I'm sorry, John, but there is recycling tropes and then there is RECYCLING TROPES. The Absolutist was definitely heading towards the latter. I have no doubt that I was probably harsh in my judgements, as I am generally inclined to be when it comes to contemporary war stories. I'm not going to go into it because I've not finished it therefore I couldn't possibly review it. However, I will say that I have a suspicion that I could predict what comes next in the book. I like to think I'd be surprised but, for now at least, I'm not willing to find out.
Perhaps there is a time and a place in your life for reading certain books, no matter how excited you are to read them then and there. And perhaps (I hope) this is the case with these two novels I set aside. Considering how strongly I feel about books, feeling like I have been let down by a less than great book can effect my mood way more than it probably should. It's almost on par to being stood up by a friend or, heaven forbid, by a date. This is in deep, emotional territory. Rather than writing these two novels off entirely, then, I am going to put them aside until such a time as I may be ready to read them. And if that time comes and I still can't get through them then I think it's fair to move on to the next one.