I’m reading a book at the moment that I have decided I won’t finish. I hate abandoning books, and its rare that I will do so. There are a few, however, that I have started and then left in favour of reading something else – I don’t consider these to be truly abandoned, as I do still want to read them, and I’ll go back to them some day. I have to make choices about whether to continue on with a book now more than before, as my time is more limited than it used to be, and the list of books I want to read is too long to waste time on something I don’t find engaging.
I came across this article on For Reading Addicts about books people have considered too disturbing to finish. I don’t think I have ever seen this as a reason for not finishing a book. Boring, yes. Badly written, yes. But as long as I’m aware in advance that a book will be covering disturbing/difficult/controversial subject matter, then I’m not sure I would abandon it for that reason. All of the books in the top ten listed in this poll are very clear, I think, about the subjects tackled in the stories.
Of the top ten titles voted for, I have read four (plus a further 15 from the rest of the top 100) – all finished and enjoyed.
- American Psycho
- The Lovely Bones
- The Shining
Enjoyed is a bit of a strange word I suppose for books that are “disturbing,” but they were all well written in my opinion, and pretty gripping. I definitely wanted to find out what happened in the end. So is there a difference between disturbing and well written and disturbing and badly written? If the story and characters are compelling, I always want to know how it ends. And if anything I would be more likely to finish a book like Room than something a bit fluffy and lacking substance – Jack and Ma are innocent people facing great hardship, and I wanted to find out how/if they could possibly overcome it. I couldn’t abandon them halfway through their story, no matter how frightening it was.
Perhaps there is a difference in knowing when the characters are fictional, and understanding deep down that the terrible things that they do or have done to them aren’t real. Room was inspired by real life cases of kidnap and imprisonment, but it is a purely fictional story. Number two in the poll is A Child Called It, a real life story about the abuse suffered by the book’s author David Pelzer at the hands of his mother. Thinking about the reality of Pelzer’s terrible experiences might have been enough to make some readers put this book down. I haven’t read it myself, but part of me thinks that if I couldn’t abandon Jack and Ma, how could I abandon Pelzer? (I won’t go into the allegations that he made it all, or at least some of it, up. The book is what it is). Interestingly, two books by Alice Seabold make the list – The Lovely Bones is in the top ten, but Lucky, the true account of Seabold’s rape on a college campus in the early 1980s, is way down the list at number 59. The Lovely Bones is a fictional story of the rape and murder of a 14 year old girl – this clearly must make it more disturbing than Seabold’s real life account, even though she herself was only 18 when she was attacked (though perhaps simply more people have read The Lovely Bones than Lucky, pushing it higher up the list). Of the top ten on the Too Disturbing to Finish list, four feature children as a main character, and a further three include children in distressing situations. Is this, then, a deciding factor?
In my last post I wrote about trends in YA literature, and that when I was of a YA age there didn’t seem to be anything like the level of in depth politically themed novels that are so popular today (Divergent, The Hunger Games etc). These could be classed as novels about children in disturbing situations, but perhaps because they are slightly older children, and because they are sci fi/fantasy/dystopian future themed, they somehow don’t seem as unsettling, as they are removed from reality as we know it. However, if you want to talk disturbing YA, we need to take a moment to discuss Christopher Pike – a staple author of my teenage years. How did I not know at the time how totally f***ed up his books were? Is he to blame for my potential desensitisation to novels of a disturbing nature?
(No. I’m not desensitised. I know when books are disturbing. It just that whether or not a book is disturbing isn’t what might put me off reading it).
In case you’re unfamiliar with Pike’s catalogue of teen novels, here’s a handy roundup, complete with synopses of each disturbing title. My favourite books of his are Monster and Remember Me…