Sunday, 11 October 2009

Geek Love - Katherine Dunn

It is very rare for me to give up on a book. I don’t like doing it because I know what goes into writing the damned things (and the more difficult endeavour of getting them into print). So I tried. I really did try. But in the end I cut my losses and put it on the pile to go to the charity shop.

Some books I give up on because the writing stinks. That is not the case here. Dunn seems to know how to string words together in an elegant way. Some books get the heave because the plot or subject matter is risible. Plot is somewhat irrelevant here and the subject matter… without wishing to sound ghoulish, it seemed to be to my taste (although the hyperbole of the quotes on the cover were just that – these people had clearly led very sheltered lives if they found the content ‘disgusting’, ‘shocking, ‘tasteless’, ‘raw’, or ‘bizarre’).

So why did I give up? The answer is ‘boredom’. I found the book unutterably dull. Despite the Hallowe’en costume grotesqueries, it seemed to me to be a mundane soap opera and it was an effort to turn the page. Getting to page 129 (where my brain switched off for the last time and refused to re-engage) was like getting part way up a steep hill on a foggy day. Hard work with no reward or prospect of any reward. The book did not engage me emotionally, intellectually, viscerally, or professionally.

If there were points being made they were either the ones being signalled with big waving flags (yes, we know it is ‘ordinary’ folk that are the real freaks) or way too subtle for me. If there were endearing characters, I wasn’t the person they would bond with. If there were wider points being made, I am happy picking them up from more engaging work.

None of this is to say I don’t think others should try the book. It’s not one of those books that makes me wonder how it got into print. It simply didn’t engage me. If you do try it, I hope you have more joy of it.