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.
Silas Marner by George Eliot
Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë
Moby Dick by Herman Melville
Finnegan’s Wake by James Joyce
Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
The Bonfire of the Vanities by Nicole Peters
The Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkien
Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James
Normal People by Sally Rooney
The Tree Of Man by Patrick White
Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel