Most Disappointing Books of 2021

When I pick up a new book, I obviously expect to enjoy reading it. That doesn’t always happen, however. Throughout 2021, I read some books that disappointed me greatly, because I either didn’t like them at all or I just couldn’t bother finishing them. Some of the books that I decided not to finish were massive, so the possibility of slogging through them felt even more like a waste of time. The seven books mentioned below didn’t work for me sadly, but that doesn’t mean that other readers won’t find them amazing. The first two I rated with 2 stars, while the other five I decided not to read until the end.


A Máquina de Joseph Walser (Joseph Walser’s Machine) by Gonçalo M. Tavares

Joseph Walser worked in a factory owned by the mogul Leo Vast. He operated a machine that demanded his full attention. His personal life was not immune to complications, as his wife was having an affair with his manager. Sadly, it’s difficult to care about the characters, since their emotions and tribulations are never properly delved into. Although this short book by Gonçalo M. Tavares is promising at first, it quickly becomes a lacklustre collection of jumbled thoughts.


O Irmão Alemão (My German Brother) by Chico Buarque

Chico Buarque drew inspiration from his family history to write this novella. When Francisco de Hollander, the narrator and main character, realised that he had a brother in Germany, he became obsessed with discovering what had happened to him. The premise is certainly intriguing. However, the pacing is infuriating, the story feels disjointed, and the ending is not impactful.


The Crimson Petal and the White by Michel Faber

Set in the second half of the 19th century, The Crimson Petal and the White has as one of the main characters Sugar, a 19-year-old who has been a prostitute for the last six years. She is not content with her life and has great aspirations. She is also a keen reader. The other protagonist is William. Although he is the heir to the Rackham Perfumeries, his dream is to become a writer. He is once advised to go look for Sugar, because she is renowned for doing everything her clients desire.

At first, I was gripped by the writing style. Michel Faber created a convincing atmosphere, and the type of narration is interesting. The narrator addresses readers directly, as if we were walking together through the streets of London and observing the characters’ actions. He also guesses our thoughts.

This form of narration soon becomes a limitation, though. It prevented me from connecting with the characters, who stopped being appealing and didn’t feel fully developed. Since the plot was also not enthralling me, I decided not to finish the book.


War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

I had been meaning to pick up War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy since reading Anna Karenina. Unfortunately, it didn’t immediately entrance me, so I decided that I couldn’t possibly force myself to read such a colossal book. The year is 1805. Anna Pavlovna organised a soirée during which various characters discussed both occurrences from their daily lives and Napoleon’s political and military actions. It was just being impossible for me to be able to recall whom any of the characters were or their connections with one another.


The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton

The first character introduced in The Luminaries is Walter Moody. Born in Edinburgh, he arrived in New Zealand in 1866 to try his luck at the goldfields. At the Crown Hotel, he met twelve men who were discussing various offences. A prostitute named Anna Wetherell was being accused of trying to take her own life. Crosbie Wells mysteriously died and soon a woman named Lydia arrived in town claiming to be his wife. Plus, Emery Staines had bizarrely disappeared.

I found it painfully difficult to distinguish between all the men gathered at the hotel. Their personalities were not distinctive enough, despite some characteristics being written on the pages, their gestures being described in detail and the dialogues being widespread.

Another reason why I decided not to finish this historical novel was the structure. The book is narrated in the third person from the perspectives of the various men at the hotel. They recall their involvement in past events and what they have been told about the ones that they didn’t witness, which should have aroused my curiosity. But, in fact, it only prevented me from connecting with the characters.


O Apocalipse dos Trabalhadores by Valter Hugo Mãe

Before picking up this book by the Portuguese author Valter Hugo Mãe, I had read two other novels by him. One I liked, the other I didn’t. O Apocalipse dos Trabalhadores I couldn’t even bother reading until the end.

We are introduced to Maria da Graça, who is having an affair with the 76-year-old man whose house she cleans. Her husband is a fisherman. She has been putting a couple of drops of bleach in his soup for a while now. She is not certain that she wants him dead, but she hopes to rob him of part of his freedom, as she doesn’t feel free herself. Her friend Quitéria is sleeping with Andriy, a Ukrainian who moved to Portugal looking for work. Not only do the characters don’t feel real, but the way they speak is also out of the realm of plausibility. They are too wooden.

Valter Hugo Mãe’s writing style also irked me. He resorted too often to telling things about the characters and decided not to use capital letters nor speech marks. The lack of dialogue marks doesn’t usually bother me. But in this case, it felt only like a way of trying to be different just for the sake of it. José Saramago, for example, didn’t use quotation marks, in order to replicate oral stories, but his prose remains readable and it’s still possible to discern who is speaking, which is not the case of this book.


Summer by Ali Smith

After liking both Winter and Spring, I was not expecting to not finish Summer by Ali Smith. At first, the book is narrated in the third person from the perspectives of two teenagers – Sacha and Robert. Despite not being as perfect as she thinks she is, Sacha is full of ideals and has good intentions. Her younger brother, Robert, is a bully who repeats the vile remarks he hears from politicians. Sadly, their personalities are not organically developed enough. They are just mentioned out of nowhere, which turns them into almost caricatures. I soon lost all desire to read this book in the Seasonal Quartet.


Which books disappointed you in 2021? Tell me in the comments!


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