1 February 2021 Susannah

Novels that are especially boring

A boring book

The Sydney Morning Herald ‘Letters’ column has recently been kept busy with a discussion of novels that are especially boring. It all began with a correspondent who wrote in to complain that he was still traumatised by the horrific boredom of being made to read George Eliot’s Silas Marner at school. Others then jumped into the discussion with their opinions on the most tedious of novels. I was astonished to see Wuthering Heights being included. Emily Brontë’s book can be accused of many things, but tedium is NOT one of them. Moby Dick was another candidate, as was Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake (I agree with George Bernard Shaw who once said that life was simply too short to read that book!). Someone else put forward Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, which I haven’t read (due, partly, I will frankly admit, to a totally irrational prejudice against the way she spells Ann – Ayn, instead of Ann or Anne, just looks so ugly!). The Letters Editor has just stated that Joyce’s Ulysses is currently in the lead.

Thinking over ‘boring novels’, I conducted a bit of a poll within a Facebook group I belong to. I was immediately punished for so doing when one of the first suggestions was Pride and Prejudice – ouch! I was surprised by many – novels by Dickens, George Eliot, Brideshead Revisited, Possession, The Great Gatsby and other books I love were condemned as dull by several. There were other authors whose books leave me cold – Joseph Conrad, Elena Ferrante, Tim Winton, Patrick White – and suggestions with which I did agree – Eat, Pray, Love, Bonfire of the Vanities, The Silmarillion, Fifty Shades of Grey and Normal People were some of those.

The letters have really made me think about which novels I have actually found boring, and I’ve realised there are very few of them. It is rare for me to give up on a novel because of its sheer tedium. I guess we all tend to gravitate towards fiction that we know we are likely to enjoy (recommended by a friend, a good review, etc).

I will probably upset some readers with these offerings, but I was so bored by Trent Dalton’s Boy Swallows Universe that I gave up on it, and I also reached the serious boredom threshold with Patrick White’s Tree of Man. Lord of the Rings left me completely cold and I was seriously bored by Wolf Hall (I hated the dialogues and the way the voices of the characters were not differentiated, but perhaps it would be better as an audio book).

I’m sure many of you will disagree with my ‘most boring’ book list, but then, as Jane Austen says, “one half of the world cannot understand the pleasures of the other”.

I think Covid has had one benefit – people have been reading more. I hope your reading has been as therapeutic and satisfying as has mine and I hope that 2021 is packed with wonderful books for you.

Do you agree with this list? Can you add more? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment.

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Featured image credit- A boring book, photo by Photo by Andrea Piacquadio, https://www.pexels.com/photo/tired-female-student-lying-on-book-in-library-3808080/
Body image credit- Jim Carrey as Ebenezer Scrooge, 2009 Walt Disney Pictures computer-animated adaptation, https://www.imdb.com/title/tt1067106/

Comments (80)

  1. Annette Neville

    Heart of Midlothian by walter Scott is boring in the extreme with a most unsympathetic heroine who wouldn’t lie to save her sister whom she knew was innocent of infanticide. I nstead she walks to London to get a pardon from the Queen.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      I’m sorry you did not enjoy this novel, which I think is Scott’s finest fictional work.

  2. Mavis

    I found ‘The Slap’ too tedious to read; who would even want to mix with those people?!

    ‘Lincoln Highway’ by contrast was so good! I read it twice. What a story! Well done Amor Towles.

    Ditto his ‘A Gentleman in Moscow’, creative imagination at it’s best.

    A good book is one that leaves you feeling a bit down when it comes to an end.

    Another favourite is ‘The Hare with the Amber Eyes’, by Edmund de Vaal, amazing.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      I also loved The Hare with Amber Eyes. I enjoyed A Gentleman in Moscow, though felt it fell rather flat at the end. Like you, I really disliked The Slap. Thanks for your comments.

  3. Mavis

    Silas Marner in my opinion is one of the best novels of all time. George Elliot was brilliant in bringing the terrible hypocrisy of the religious to light, how he was treated as suspicious because he had epilepsy, how his so-called best friend betrayed their friendship and how the young woman he was to marry betrayed him too.

    It was about the society they lived in at the time; how the wealthy people were shown respect and deference while they actually were the weakest, laziest people in the district and at the same time how decent, honest and kind were the poorest people, the people who treated Silas with kindness and respect.

    It is also a story of how love can mend terrible disappointment and make a person whole again. Silas in giving love to a foundling girl, giving her what her own father was to weak to give, himself found love and fulfillment, friends and social acceptance. It is a book for all-time.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      You have made me feel I must reread Silas Marner as it is many years since I read it. I adore Middlemarch and The Mill on the Floss and have read all her novels. Romola is poor, and Felix Holt isn’t marvellous either. What a great mind she had!

  4. Carmel Blakeley

    I couldn’t finish Normal People. Just couldn’t muster the slightest interest in the characters or story. Sons and Lovers is another I found rather boring.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      I haven’t read Normal People but have heard some mixed reports of it. However, I am fond of Sons and Lovers.

  5. Catherine Dunn

    It’s just so personal isn’t it? I also gave up on ‘Boy Swallows Universe’ but loved ‘Tree of Man’. Some of my most loathed books for tedium were those I had to study for English lit. at school. There is nothing like having had to spend precious hours as a teenager dissecting ‘Far From The Madding Crowd’s endless descriptions of bucolic scenery to make one hate it with a passion. And yet coming back to Hardy in my twenties, it was often my escape after a day of parenting toddlers. So perhaps context is important?

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Yes, it’s all about the right book for the right person at the right time. I detested Lord of the Flies at school, but found it fascainting rereading it as a mature adult. I am glad you have come back to Hardy, in spite of your school experience. We are so lucky to love reading!

  6. I enjoyed that discussion and all the comments.

    I find it interesting that Lord of the Rings is either love it or hate it. It does seem like a tediously long journey on the surface if you’re not hooked by its metaphors on the world and history, progress and conservatism, or by its many many references to exotic places and obscure cultures. I have always skipped over the verse as being next level tedious, but I am a skimmer in general. I am still not ready for the Silmarillion. I liked the Hobbit less.

    I do think you need to get hooked at a certain age, maybe?

    I can’t feel the same love for Harry Potter and find the use of magic to get out of any problem a little boring, by comparison.

    School is exactly the place where boring has the chance to become unboring , under the guidance of the right teacher.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Thanks for your comments, Bruce. Yes, I think with The Lord of the Rings, it is an ‘age’ thing. You need to find the books at the right time. And the series does seem to appeal far more to men than to women.
      I adore the Harry Potter books, though am not usually fond of magic in anything.
      Isn’t it wonderful that we all have such different responses to books!

  7. Dianne Shearer

    Hi Susannah, I agree with Moby Dick being tedious but it did make me think about the anatomical position of the eyes of the sperm whale being close to 5 or 6 metres from the front of the whale. This definitely means that they cannot see where they are going but that problem has been rectified by their wonderful sonar system. It leaves many humans sense of direction in the shade as some people need a GPS to walk around the block.

    Eat, Pray, Love almost landed across the other side of the room after I gave up halfway through it. However, she did supply us with the information that the best pizza shop in the world can be found in Naples so that is handy information if one is visiting Italy.

    !00 Years of Solitude by Garcia Gabriel Marquez made such a profound impression on me, I remember nothing at all about it. Didn’t enjoy Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights and gave up on Tim Winton’s, Cloudstreet.

    Thanks for the chance to comment,
    Dianne Shearer.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      I felt exactly the same about Eat, Pray, Love and also about Cloudstreet, though most people seemed to love it. I adore Wuthering Heights and have read it many times. I am not keen on 100 Years of Solitude. I guess we all respond differently to different books and the good thing is that there is no Right or Wrong – just differing tastes.

  8. Vanessa Coldwell

    I thought The English Patient and Madame Bovary were shockingly boring. Brideshead Revisited is on the list…yet it is one of my favourite books. Glad we’re all different!

    • Susannah Fullerton

      I also found The English Patient tedious, but do like Madame Bovary (though I always want to slap her – she is so annoying!). Yes, a good thing we all have such different reading tastes.

  9. I find some of the entries on this list astonishing, but then I suppose I shouldn’t. ‘Boring’ is a word thrown around a lot these days, and it seems to have more relationship to those who use it then the what they are talking about. Methinks it has a string relationship with shortening attention spans and today’s increasing need for action and drama. Books with subtle meanings that gradually unfold are tossed aside too easily. And do kids even learn how to unravel these books for themselves at school any more? Watching the movie instead of reading the book and analysing that is a very different experience which generates a different level of results.

    Each to their own of course, and if a book is outside of your favoured genre list, you are more likely to think it ‘boring’, but it is only boring to YOU. I would be the last one to recommend Finnegan’s Wake to anybody, but anybody with an interest in linguistics would most likely find it fascinating. So audience is crucial for this judgment.

    So many good books written off quickly because they are too thick or from a different time catering to a more patient audience who had time for a yarn to unwind and warm up. I started writing a series of articles called Boot Camp for Big Books with article #1 on how to approach War and Peace to get the most out of it. I’m not sure whether this list above means I should write more or just give up entirely 🙁

    • Susannah Fullerton

      You made many interesting comments, Alicia. As Jane Austen says, “one half of the world cannot understand the pleasures of the other”, and that is as true when it comes to books as everything else. I am often amazed when a book I’ve loved is condemned as ‘boring’ by someone else. As you said, it depends on so many things – faouvired genres, age of reader, life experiences of reader, how long they persevere with the book, and so much more.
      I guess it is good we are all different and that all of us can find books we love.

  10. Melody

    I enjoy Patrick White and Charles Dickens while my partner and son both abhor their books. But the book I could never get through, despite both my daughters insisting that I would love it, was by Diana Gabaldon. I had only got to the end of the first chapter and I was ready to throw it through the nearest window. It was very much a case of a writer who has not learned that it’s best to “show, not tell”.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      I made it through the first Diana Gabaldon, but was not at all tempted to continue with the series.

      • Max Noack

        Ulysses and Moby Dick always seem to come up first when discussing ‘boring’ classics. Having read both, I did find myself quite frustrated and disengaged at times, but then utterly captivated by the language at other moments. I think I remember reading that Melville may have deliberately done this to represent the rhythm of life at sea, where literally nothing will happen for weeks or even months; however then, in the space of a couple of hours or even minutes, so many emotionally-heightened incidents will occur, whether that be due to a storm, whale spotting etc. I guess that raises the question of why we read in the first place: is it to be enthralled and to escape completely into what we are reading, or is it to experience the ebbs and flows, the frustrations and the excitements, of another’s life?

        • Susannah Fullerton

          That’s an interesting theory. I think both your suggestions are right – that we read to be enthralled and to escape, but also to experience life in its many varieties. I loved Moby Dick, and found Ulysses a challenge in its printed version but really loved the audio version.

  11. Donna

    Oh, yes–Moby Dick, and Ulysses–much deserved on any “boring” list. Also, the Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner and Billy Budd. although, I must confess that it probably isn’t fair to list books I never managed to finish.

  12. Heather Grant

    Fifty Shades of Grey was ABSOLUTELY BORING!!! I skipped very quickly through it. But a few of my friends really enjoyed it!! One other book I attempted 3 times and could not get past Page 40 and that was Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett. I’m sure it is a very good read but it bored me to tears. However, I do accept the fact that I didn’t like it but many of my friends did. All a matter of taste.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      I was also utterly bored by Fifty Shades, but I also disapproved of its message to young women. A dreadful book, but it was popular and as you said, lots of poeple liked it.
      Each to their own!

  13. Margaret Debenham

    I seem to be in a very small minority, but I really enjoyed Lincoln in the Bardo. I read it not because it won the Booker Prize, but because the title intrigued me. Very much not the usual sort of book I would read, and I found it very weird, but also rather wonderful, and never boring. An unusual way to look at the awful loss of a much-loved child, but rather touching. I totally agree with you about Wolf Hall, Susannah – the topic was interesting, but I too got so annoyed because I was never sure who was speaking, and to me that is just bad writing (despite the accolades the book earned). Loved loved loved Lord of the Rings (book and movies). Aren’t authors fortunate that we all see things so differently, so that there is always likely to be someone somewhere who enjoys the work they put so much of their lives into!

    • Susannah Fullerton

      I think it is wonderful that there is such diversity of opinion over novels. What some love, others detest, and some of us are bored by books that others find intriguing.
      Glad you agree with me about Wolf Hall – I had to keep working backwards to the last ‘he said’ to try and work out who was talking. I agree – bad writing!

  14. Rodney

    So pleased that I’m not the only one to abhor “The Lord of the Rings”.I’ve only ever walked out of a movie 3 times in my life and the last one was “LOTR”. I taught “Tree of Man” decades back and there was general agreement at the HSC Marking Centre that “TOM” won hands down as the dreariest text that year -or any year. I’m also with the Garcia Gabriel Marquez readers .100 Years of Ennui,perhaps.Has anyone ever read ken Follett’s “Winter of the World” to the end? I can only say congratulations and well done!

    • Susannah Fullerton

      So good to hear from you, Rodney. Do come along to JASA again one of these days! I am glad there was agreement about Tree of Man. One wonders how many school kids were put off books for ever by being made to read it.
      And all those battles in LOTR just failed to capture my imagination. They say it is more a man’s book than a woman’s, but I know lots of men who don’t like it, including my Dad.

  15. Lucie

    This isn’t necessarily about boredom, but for books that aren’t particularly plot-driven I do not feel guilty if I don’t finish the book once I think I have learnt all I need to from the book.

  16. Karen Ramrakha

    Hi Susannah,
    I loved the first two books in Hilary Mantel’s trilogy, but am finding the third really boring. I will finish it though, but I keep reading other things for some light.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Well maybe I should have persevered with the series, as so many people have loved them.

  17. Selina

    Fifty Shades of Grey is the worst book I have ever attempted to read. So bad that I gave up after 30 minutes into a 5 hour flight which had no entertainment.

    Have recently read The Tree of Man. Was heavy going rather than boring.Often I was reluctant to start reading because of all the sad things that kept happening. However I found it a worthwhile read. I have thought about the characters and their stories many times since finishing the book and have reread several passages. A difficult but memorable book

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Fifty Shades was truly dire, wasn’t it.
      Maybe I need to give Patrick White another try – it has been a while.

  18. Jill Knoblauch

    I actually had to “read” Boy Swallows Universe” and it was terrific, much better than reading the book, as the reader was incredible and his different voices made it really enjoyable. However I found the follow up absolutely boring.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      I had it on audio too, but I just couldn’t engage with the characters or really ‘see’ them.

  19. gail shore

    The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway. A lot of monotonous struggle, all for nothing. Maybe I missed the point.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      I enjoyed that one more than any other Hemingway, even though I am not generally interested in fishing. Perhaps it is more about man’s struggle with nature and the elements and with himself and old age?
      It’s wonderful that people have such varied responses to books!

      • Ruth Wilson

        What a fascinating discussion, almost as interesting as reading the books themselves. I am intrigued by what draws us into some books and not others. The wonderful literary journalist Vivienne Gotnick calls it readiness, the ways in which our life experiences and our imagination have prepared us to enter and enjoy particular fictional worlds. I think some aspects of our lives are like magnets that connect with some fictions and not others. I don’t know why I love Hilary Mantel’s trilogy so much but I suspect that she has found a new way to penetrate the dark recesses of her main character’s consciousness. Maybe what we like to read also shows us aspects of ourselves! A great topic thank you Susannah

        • Susannah Fullerton

          I love that idea of ‘readiness’. So many of the comments in the newspaper were form people who had been made to read a book at school, clearly before they were ready for it. I have sometimes read a book later in my life which I disliked at school, only to find that I loved it and could so relate to the characters and their experiences – all because of what I had experienced since the first reading.
          So glad you enjoyed the topic, Ruth.

    • Susan

      I loathed this book and had the misfortune of having to study it 4 years in a row. Torture.

  20. Mary Hall

    I have given up on a few books whilst in lockdown; the last one was ‘A lonely girl Is a Dangerous thing ‘ I didn’t care anymore


    The most boring book I have read was 100 years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, closely followed by almost anything of Patrick White.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Yes, I agree about Patrick White. I have nt read much Marquez, but was not gripped.

  22. Gail Stark

    I really loved Wolf Hall but was seriously bored by Lincoln in the Bardo – man Booker Prize 2017.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Yes, Lincoln in the Bardo appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald a few times, so you were not alone there.
      Wolf Hall also won the Booker, and I know loads of poeple love it, but the dialogues drove me nuts – it was so hard to tell who was speaking.

      • Malvina Yock

        I had to read Lincoln in the Bardo for a book club, and held off for ages, due to the poor comments. However, as soon as I started I was electrified by the style, it was fabulous and gripped me from beginning to end. Good to know there are all types of books out there for different readers.

        • Susannah Fullerton

          It does seem to be a book that people either love or hate. Yes, great that there are so many varied tastes when it comes to reading.

  23. Marilyn Whalley

    The Hobbit was read to us at school and was marvellous. But The Movie Lord of the Rings Movie was boring. I could not understand the hype about Wolf Hall, very boring for me and won’t be attempting any of the sequels. But most of the classics I adore.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      I loved The Hobbit, but after that the series lost me. They say (no idea how accurate this is) that generally the readers who really becomes devotees are male.

  24. Barbara A Matthies

    I have followed with interest the letters in the SMH and Moby Dick and The Tree of Man would be my choice of very boring books.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      I ended up really enjoying Moby Dick, but totally agree with you about Tree of Man.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      It is worth listening to on audio version – so much easier than reading it.

  25. Suzanne WILLIAMS

    Hi Susannah,
    I thought The God of Small Things was one of my favourite books os all my reading life so far! And I loved Wolf Hall and most of Tim Winton’s novel.So each to their own.
    The worst book I and the rest of the Bookclub read last year was The Discomfort of Evening by Rijneveld which won the International Booker Prize …as they say there is no accounting for taste.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Yes, I know you love Hilary Mantel. It’s her style that drives me nuts, even though I adore that era and Tudor history. Thanks for the warning about the other book.

  26. Alexandra Young

    Hi Susannah,
    Ive tried many times to read Patrick White, always found his books so dreary, nothing happens. I tried a talking book of “The Solid Mandala” had to give up. I quite enjoyed Normal People, am yet to read Wolf Hall though have been recommended to read it.
    I agree with you about Elena Ferrante and didn’t quite “get’ both books I read of hers.
    Also read “The God of all Things” and have to agree with the other comment about that book.
    It’s good to be upfront and honest about what we like and don’t like.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Absolutely! I think it is fabulous that we live in a world where we have such a choice of books, and that we can have fun discussing individual tastes and why we love / hate certian books.

  27. Elisabeth Neales

    I see that you found “Boy Swallows Universe” boring. Have you tried Trent Dalton’s second novel “All Our Shimmering Skies”? I think it Is one of the most boring books that I have ever read!

    • Susannah Fullerton

      After giving up on Boy Swallows Universe, I can’t say I am tempted. Thanks for the warning.

  28. Kathrine Becker

    Actually it was Margaret Little a well respected retired English and history teacher who wrote the first letter which started this deluge…she was defending Silas Marner and suggesting it as an apt book for the current times. She is a member of JASA Sydney.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Thanks so much for telling me. I must have missed the first letter that got a very enthusiastic correspondence going. And nice that she is a member of JASA too.

  29. David Price

    I have been reading and re-readind the Hobbit, and the Lord of the Rings, since I was a pup of 6 or 8 years of age. I bought my first copy in one volume, when I was 21 and stationed at Enoggera (I was in the Army at the time) and took it back to the barracks where I commenced another re-reading at 4pm on a Saturday afternoon, the which I finished at 3am on Monday morning. I have never found it to be in anyway boring or tedious. I admit, though, that the Silmarillion may be a bit tedious but then, to each his/own.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      I LOVE The Hobbit, but somehow The Lord of the Rings loses me, and I found The Silmarillion unreadable. But, as you say, each to their own and it is fabulous that there are such varied literary tastes in the world.

  30. Giles

    Killing Commendatore by Haruki Murakami. The ending was yet worth reading through 600+ pages of dreariness.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      I haven’t read it, but can’t say you make me want to rush out and find a copy.

      • Julie Coleman

        I couldn’t agree more with you regarding Tree of Man – which I was forced to read at Uni and write an assignment on (and still have nightmares about!) And Lord of the Rings – my husband’s favourite book – which I have failed to finish!
        I also loved many of the books on the list that others found boring so I guess if someone enjoys a book, that’s really all that matters – whether it’s considered a literary masterpiece or trash!

        • Susannah Fullerton

          Yes, books are so much a matter of personal taste, and also finding the right book at the right time in your life. I read Tree of Man when I first moved to Australia, thinking I needed to know more about Aussie fiction. It was NOT a good place to start!

  31. Miland Joshi

    Perhaps it’s like food and drink – we like some things, but not others, and that’s just the way it is, though I imagine that things can change with time. I think spinach is all right now, but when I was a child I did not! When a certain hamburger restaurant came to the UK that put mustard and gherkin in, I thought it was great, but I now I regard it as boring (mind you, thanks to the pandemic I haven’t eaten it for quite some time, so maybe I wouldn’t mind it so much).

  32. karen Camer

    I had to give up on The God of Small Things. I had no idea what it was all about.

    It is good that people have differing opinions though. I have been watching a lot of book tubers on You Tube recently and the amount of people who have waxed lyrical about The Prophets is astounding. As the book was in the library, I took it out, read 10 pages and took it back!

    • Susannah Fullerton

      I quite enjoyed The God of Small Things, but didn’t love it! Isn’t it wonderful that we all have such varied tastes.

      • Susannah Fullerton

        Sorry, I don’t understand your question, Miland? I have not written any novels, if that is what you are asking, but I have read thousands of them.

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