Skip to content

Can You Respect A Novel But Still Dislike It?

Here’s a problem I face when I’m reviewing or offering my opinion on famous, well-received novels.

I have to separate my subjective opinion from a much wider objective opinion. For example, I recently wrote about how much I really disliked Possession. I’ve called the novel “dull,” “a slog,” and all sorts of other negative things. The same goes for other novels at the bottom of my highly subjective and basically meaningless rankings, like Mrs. Dalloway, A Dance To The Music of Time, and The Sound and the Fury.

I have to recognize that though I dislike, and even greatly dislike, these novels, many literature critics who know much more than me believe these are some of the best novels ever written.

The more I read through these novels, the more I realize that I can dislike them while still respecting the books and their authors. Virginia Woolf was absolutely an incredibly talented author. She knew exactly what she wanted to do with Mrs. Dalloway and she did it. I can mostly understand why so many people love the novel. But I hate it.

Can my dislike for Mrs. Dalloway and Possession coexist with my respect for these novels and their authors?  That’s the tension I’m trying to embrace on this blog while improving on my ability to show appreciation for novels I don’t personally like.

This isn’t unique to reading. An athlete can dislike another athlete while respecting their talent. We can dislike a contemporary designed house while appreciating the skill of the architect and the time the designer spent on the house. You can dislike a politician while recognizing their intellect—after all, you’ve got to be an incredible marketer to get elected these days.

So, yes, I think I’m too the point of saying that Possession is a “great book”—but, personally, I hate it.

Am I making sense here? Can you relate?

Advertisements
35 Comments Post a comment
  1. random2409 #

    Absolutely…I generally find that “critically acclaimed” and “beautifully written” books by “award winning” authors are often well written but turgid in the extreme and more often than not I end up binning them after the first 30 pages…

    Like

    April 25, 2014
  2. Sure. I respect Jeff Beck’s ability as a guitarist, but I find him incredibly boring. I would rather listen to Clapton or Page. Same with Johnny Cash. Technically, he’s not a good singer. An opera singer would technically be a great singer. But I would rather listen to Cash.

    Like

    April 25, 2014
    • I would love to hear an opera singer cover Cash. That would be interesting.

      Like

      April 25, 2014
  3. Yeah, but sometimes things just suck. With Byatt, for example, do you really even respect her as an author? In earlier posts, you were scathing not only about the book, but about her statements on other things. Sometimes you have to say, “Well, maybe I don’t get this. Maybe it’s just not for me.” Other times, you have to come out and say, “I really, really think this sucks. The author is an idiot [optional addition: and so is everyone who likes it.]” That’s more fun, too.

    Like

    April 25, 2014
    • Yeah, I don’t particularly like Byatt or things she said, but I do respect her as an author. She’s a really good writer but I don’t like her storytelling style at all and I think she’s condescending.

      Like

      April 25, 2014
  4. Definitely! When I read Death of a Salesman, I absolutely despised the characters. However, I could fully appreciate the relevance of the work and story. So I appreciate Death of a Salesman, but certainly do not enjoy reading it.

    Like

    April 25, 2014
  5. I read a stat recently that said 57% of books are not read to completion, including bestsellers. I’ve got my own list of those books. They are excellent books for many, just not my cup of tea.

    Like

    April 25, 2014
  6. Sam #

    I think it goes both ways, too. I can know a book is terrible and still love it. Appreciation for quality and personal taste can always be separated.

    Like

    April 25, 2014
    • Very true. That’s why so many people like Twilight, right? Joking…mostly.

      Like

      April 25, 2014
      • Sam #

        I hope that’s the reason! (Not joking… entirely.)

        Like

        April 25, 2014
  7. Yes. I also occasionally see what an author was attempting but failed to do. Which I also respect. Especially since my own second novel failed to achieve what I intended, and I have regretted it’s being published ever since. But the idea was sound, and I intend to revise it at some point in the future. Should I live long enough… 😉

    Like

    April 25, 2014
  8. Absolutely! That’s make give some books that extra kick in a way that fact that you don’t necessarily agree or hold to those same principles, logic, sentiments, ideas etc. These books are all the more worth reading because of the way in which they help us grow and learn 🙂

    Like

    April 25, 2014
  9. I definitely relate to this post. I can honestly say that “Wutheing Heights” is and will always be my bete noire – and having to study it in school didn’t help. But, I can understand why it is considered a classic; while I hate the characters, many find them intriguing. “The Great Gatsby” is another novel that I don’t particularly care for, but I can see how the writing can be captivating for others.

    Like

    April 25, 2014
  10. “Their Eyes Were Watching God” … It would be a hard book not to respect, but I really did not enjoy it after about the first twenty pages. It felt rushed and not well put together, but the basis for the book and Hurston herself are very respectable.

    Like

    April 25, 2014
  11. I think The New York Trilogy by Paul Auster is one of the best pieces of fiction in the last thirty years – yet, many of my friends who have read it, think it’s boring, and that Auster in general is a second rate novelist. I disagree totally, yet, I can understand way people may think that. So the argument can go the other way round.

    Like

    April 25, 2014
  12. Sometimes I almost feel sure you’re supposed to dislike a book you read, whilst still understanding the merit it has (whether because of the topic it covers, or the style it employs) I slogged my way through The French Lieutenant’s Woman, didn’t really find it profound, or meaningful at the time but have since come to appreciate what Fowles was doing with the book…doesn’t change my first impression but allows me to understand why it’s considered ‘important’.

    Like

    April 25, 2014
  13. I agree with you. Hated The Sound and the Fury. Hated it with the fire of a thousand suns.

    But! I’ll acknowledge that, for some, it’s genius.

    Wuthering Heights was the first book I fell in love with, all the way back in middle school. It’s all so very subjective.

    Like

    April 25, 2014
  14. Reblogged this on lydiacastellano and commented:
    Something to muse over…

    Like

    April 25, 2014
  15. A lot of things weren’t written to be liked as such. Take the song Strange Fruit for instance. I don’t like the song, obviously don’t like what the song is about but actually feel a kind of love towards it.
    As for Mrs Dalloway; I like, love and respect it.

    Like

    April 25, 2014
  16. Yes, I can. I did not like The Goldfinch, but some of the writing was exceptional. I thought it would have been much better if it had been a third its length. And I know people who couldn’t get through Tinkers (a slim novel), the Pulitzer Prize winner in 2010, but I loved it. Writing is art. I love The Sound and the Fury, Mrs. Dalloway, and Michael Cunningham’s The Hours. It would be so terribly boring if we all liked the same things, wouldn’t it?

    Like

    April 25, 2014
  17. There are books that I love and others hate. The Scarlet Letter is one of those. Much of Hemingway The Great Gatsby are others. Then there are those I can’t stand and others love. The Catcher in the Rye is one. Jazz is another area. I appreciate the talent of the musicians but some of it I just don’t get. When all is said and done, much of art is like that.

    Like

    April 25, 2014
  18. I know what you’re saying. A work of art might display genuine skill, and In such a case it’s worthy of respect. But your subjective experience of that work might still be a bad one, in which case you dislike it, even if it objectively demonstrates that the artist knew what they were doing.

    Like

    April 25, 2014
  19. As an English major this is totally true, I read many great books but I didn’t like all of them. I am not a tough reviewer I like most things but there are a few books I genuinely did not like that everyone else seems to love. I am not a fan of “nightwood” by Djuna Barnes (or a lot of the modernists) but everyone else loves them. Sometimes I felt wrong by not liking a book, but then I realized that like any art literature is subjective and it’s okay not to like something while still respecting where it comes from and the effect it had.

    Like

    April 25, 2014
  20. Off the top of my head, the final installment of the Harry Potter series. I hated it. But it hasn’t soured my whole relationship with the series and Rowling. I just pretend that book didn’t exist.

    Like

    April 26, 2014
  21. abhaynarayan20 #

    I didn’t like “The white tiger”, but still couldn’t tell that to anyone. finally met someone with the similar feelings.

    Like

    April 26, 2014
  22. mushypeasonearth #

    Yes I can totally relate to this. I hated The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath, for example (my review here: http://bookaweekblog.wordpress.com/2014/01/19/19-the-bell-jar-sylvia-plath/) but nonetheless I recognise and respect that it is an important piece of feminist writing and is very honest and revealing about mental health issues. I just found it tedious and could not sympathise with the main character at all.

    Like

    April 26, 2014
  23. I relate completely. Especially in English classes (I took one called the Gothic Novel- whooooo boy), where I read these texts that are critically important to the genre, or to a style, or to one literary theory or another, but I don’t personally like them. It’s that whole issue of taste in art. For instance, I hated Wieland by Charles Brockden Brown. Really, I mean, I had some serious issues with the narrator, Clara. But I understood WHY this text was valued, why it paved the way for the Gothic genre, where the genre came from, yada-yada.. and on and on. We don’t have to necessarily like the texts that are important, because taste is different for everyone. But being able to appreciate them as art is the important aspect. Does that make sense?

    Like

    April 26, 2014
  24. I agree with you as this happens to my friends, they find most of the genius
    classics extremely boring.

    Like

    April 27, 2014
  25. Of course. I can’t stand The Scarlet Letter but I appreciate Hawthorne’s critique on Puritanical hypocrisy.

    Like

    April 28, 2014
  26. Yes

    Like

    April 29, 2014
  27. A wonderful quote by Auden:

    “As readers, we remain in the nursery stage so long as we cannot distinguish between taste and judgment, so long, that is, as the only possible verdicts we can pass on a book are two: this I like; this I don’t like.

    For an adult reader, the possible verdicts are five: I can see this is good and I like it; I can see this is good but I don’t like it; I can see this is good and, though at present I don’t like it, I believe that with perseverance I shall come to like it; I can see that this is trash but I like it; I can see that this is trash and I don’t like it.”

    Like

    April 30, 2014
  28. I’ve struggled with this balance regarding Mansfield Park. I understand what Austen was trying to do, but it just didn’t seem successful to me. There’s something scandalous in claiming you dislike a ‘Great Work’, because yes, people a lot smarter than yourself claim it’s genius. I’m completely with you. Cheers.

    Like

    April 30, 2014
  29. This happens to me all the time. You are not alone. I have Mrs. Dalloway too. Just not a style I care for, but I appreciate her talent. I’d rather read Woolfs essays any day.

    Like

    April 30, 2014

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: