Posted on September 28, 2020
When did authors become so verbose?
In the last few months, I have read four very good novels, three of them by authors I eagerly look forward to reading, the fourth set in Ireland, my homeland and with a plot I knew would pique my interest.
I was disappointed in all four and for the same reason.
Huge chunks of the books were taken up with ‘atmospheric’ descriptions of the scenery and rambling pieces of history (several pages long) which bore no relevance whatsoever to the story. My favourite contemporary author, James Lee Burke, used up nearly a quarter of A Private Cathedral in this way and I hadn’t a clue how the story ended. All the philosophising and picture painting of purple skies and moss covered oaks had robbed me of my senses and I couldn’t face going back to try to understand it.
To make matters worse, I read John Connolly’s The Dirty South immediately afterwards only to find that he has morphed into Burke. I have followed Charlie Parker’s progress (or lack of it) ever since Every Dead Thing and have grown to love him, Louis and Angel. This book literally was a shocker – Parker was nearly incidental to the main storyline, there were multiple pages of angst, navel gazing and more of the raptures on the pulchritude of the Deep South. Between Burke and Connolly, I feel like I’ve actually been there, even if I still don’t know what a po’boy sandwich is.
I thought I was on safe ground with Chris Petit’s The Psalm Killer, because it ticked all the boxes – murder mystery, serial killer, Catholic cop in the Royal Ulster Constabulary and a background of The Troubles. Wrong. If ever there was a case of over-research, this is it. Petit mixed may real-life people into the story, spent interminable time laying out their history which, again, bore no relevance at all to the fictional story. How could it? Large chunks of the book read like an un-asked for history lesson and, biggest crime of all in my eyes, he allowed his political persuasion to shine through.
The biggest disappointment of all was Jo Nesbo’s latest offering, The Kingdom. As a long time fan of the Harry Hole series, I have always appreciated the terse, edge-of-the-seat prose that Nesbo delivers. I was quite prepared to accept that this stand-alone novel is a very different kettle of fish – a slow burner with many psychological elements to be teased out along the way. And it is. To get to the story, however, it is necessary to wade through unreal passages of dialogue, such as the one between a mountain man and a female architect when they discussed the values of beauty. It went on for a very long time, encompassing the beauty in cars and the gallows (depending on if the wretch at the end of the rope deserved it). The architect then has a conversation with a group of mountain men on how different their village would have been if Hitler had been Norwegian. Or rather, she talks and they splutter into their beer. For a long time. It made my teeth ache.
I like background information, character building and world building. They all combine to create amazing stories, but when multiple pages of irrelevance are dumped right in the middle of the action instead of being woven seamlessly into the narrative, it can only have the effect of pulling the reader back into their own world rather than keeping them enraptured with the one they’re reading about.