Every year there are books that I hope to at least mildly enjoy but that end up being disappointing for a variety of reasons. 2019 was sadly full of those books. And they were not disappointing in the sense that I only didn’t love them as much as I was expecting to. I truly didn’t like them. Some I read in their entirety and rated with two stars, while others I decided not to finish, as I had no hope to start enjoying them at any point.
First, there were three books that I read until the very end but that I didn’t like.
Two women, Hester and Rebekah, who are developing feelings for one another, try to discover why people are disappearing around London in 1831. The premise sounded promising. However, there is no aura of mystery throughout the book, in part because the descriptions are soulless. The plot is unjustifiably meandering. Some events are completely unnecessary for the clarification of what is supposed to be the main mystery. And there is also too much telling and not enough showing. I only kept reading because I was mildly curious to know the reason behind the disappearances.
On the eve of the independence of Angola in 1975, Ludovica shuts herself in her apartment. This is an interesting foundation for a novel. But, unfortunately, by the end this book feels like nothing more than a draft. It tries to convey too much without giving any details, which is frustrating and confusing. Many characters are mentioned once in a while, but they don’t seem to serve a purpose in the story.
This non-fiction book is a collection of testimonies about the nuclear disaster that happened in Ukraine in 1986 and that affected other countries, including Belarus. The author interviewed former workers of the power plant, people who decided to return to a village that had been evacuated, doctors, scientists, displaced people and soldiers. Unfortunately, their statements were neither edited, analysed nor properly contextualised. It raises interesting questions, but they are never fully explored.
There were also eight books that I didn’t finish and have no desire to try reading again. I didn’t rate them, didn’t write a review about them, nor counted them towards my reading goal, as I didn’t get close to the end.
The Parentations by Kate Mayfield
This novel, which is apparently about immortality, is set in different time periods and in more than one location. In London in 2015, the sisters Constance and Verity were expecting to meet a boy dear to them, but he didn’t appear at the expected location. Back at home, they receive a cryptic letter about a supply of phials. Clovis Fowler receives a similar letter. In Iceland in 1783, after Stefán drinks water from a pool, a man reveals to him that from now on he can only drink from it twice a year, following “the long sleep that will come”. Decades later, Stéfan finds a couple sleeping near the same pool. As they also drank from it, he explains that they now have “extended mortality”.
The dialogues don’t make much sense initially, because important things are left unsaid. The characters have information that we don’t, and they awkwardly feel no need to verbalise it. It feels forced. We are pushed into their lives and important facts, which all characters seem to know about, are kept from us. The book stops being mysterious to become exasperating. If at least there was a character also trying to figure out what was happening, I wouldn’t have felt so lost.
The connection between all of the characters starts to make more sense around page 100. They don’t seem to have a personality, however. Since the book was feeling too much like a gimmick, I stopped reading.
Quaresma, Decifrador by Fernando Pessoa
The reason why I was not liking this book and decided not to finish it is different from all the other ones mentioned on this post. This is a collection of 13 detective novellas that Pessoa wrote throughout his life. As many other of his works, they’re all incomplete. This is not an issue in The Book of Disquiet, for example, since it is fragmentary in its essence. However, the plot is essential for my enjoyment of this kind of novellas. As they are, they read like drafts. They must be extremely interesting for researchers of Pessoa’s work, but I wasn’t interested in finishing these stories about the cases solved by Abílio Fernandes Quaresma, who had amazing reasoning skills, despite his addiction to alcohol.
Gabriela, Cravo e Canela (Gabriela, Clove and Cinnamon) by Jorge Amado
Set in Ilhéus in 1925, this book tells the story of Gabriela and Nacib. He was born in Syria but moved to Brazil when he was just four years old. Although he had lived for most of his life in Ilhéus, people still called him the Arab. He owned a café and was desperately looking for a new cook. He ended up employing Gabriela, who had recently moved to the city.
I struggled to become invested in the story, because not much happens in terms of plot for a long while. Many secondary characters are mentioned, in order to paint a picture of the life there. The reader gets to have an idea about the social and political issues being faced, like the conduct that was expected of women and the desire to be influential. But none of this managed to enthral me. It’s really hard to keep track of all of the minor characters, and the narration becomes repetitive, as the same events about people we never truly get to meet are mentioned over and over again. I didn’t care about any of the characters nor what was happening.
The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton
The protagonist of this novel is invited to a masquerade ball organised by Lord and Lady Hardcastle to celebrate the return of their daughter, Evelyn, from Paris. He is caught in the midst of a game. Evelyn will be murdered at the ball, but it won’t appear to be a crime. He has to discover who will do it, in order to be able to leave Blackheath. That day will be repeated eight times, and he will be in a different body each time. When he discovers the rules, he only has five hosts left. The novel starts when he is in the body of Sebastian Bell.
Although the book has an inventive premise, for sure, it doesn’t feel like a story. It reminded me of a board game with various rules and strange pawns. The concept is interesting, but I was not connecting with the characters. They don’t feel authentic. It was also getting too repetitive for me to enjoy it.
Flores by Afonso Cruz
This book by the Portuguese writer Afonso Cruz is mainly a collection of vignettes about various instants in the narrator’s life. He recalls the funeral of his father and moments that he shared with his wife and daughter. For years he had almost never spoken with his neighbour. However, since he invited him for a coffee, he started acting as if they were close. Mr Ulme had an aneurysm and since then couldn’t remember anything about his past.
There is something strange about the writing style. The narrator tells what he did in certain occasions, but I couldn’t visualise any of it. I was also not feeling a connection with any of the characters.
Nights at the Circus by Angela Carter
Fevvers, the most famous aerialist in the world at the end of the 19th century, says that she was hatched. She was born in London and was found on the steps of Wapping in a laundry basket. Around her, there were broken eggshells and, on top of her shoulder blades, there was a bit of yellow fluff. When she reached puberty, her wings could not be overlooked. Jack Walser, an American journalist, wanted to discover the truth behind her identity.
We learn more about Fevvers through dialogues, as if we were to wonder whether she is telling Mr Walser the truth or not. Since he doesn’t ask many questions, various chapters consist only of monologues by Fevvers, which, as the book progresses, start losing their initial enchantment and become dull. I grew so bored that I stopped wanting to discover the truth about Fevvers. I didn’t even finish the first part.
A Costa dos Murmúrios (Murmuring Coast) by Lídia Jorge
This novel by the Portuguese writer Lídia Jorge starts on the day of Evita’s wedding with a military man in Mozambique. During the night, there was an incident nearby, but no one knew for sure what happened. I didn’t bother reading more than a few pages, because the writing style didn’t grip me and the story seemed to be tedious. As I hadn’t liked the first novel that I read by this author, I quickly concluded that her work is not for me.
Vozes do Vento by Maria Isabel Barreno
I only read a couple of pages of this book before giving up. It’s set in Cape Verde at the time of an uprising by the slaves. The premise seems interesting, but the writing style is so dull. We are just directly told things about characters and events. There is also no sense of place nor a gripping moment in the initial storyline.
Which were your most disappointing books of 2019? Tell me in the comments!