Literature

Popular Books We Kinda Hate

Photo by Nicole Rees-Williams.

Have you ever had that experience of finishing a deeply anticipated read – perhaps it was hyped up on social media or maybe it was considered as a classic, only to finish it thinking…that was not good? Us too, and in this article our contributors are confessing the popular books that they believe just weren’t all that.

The Catcher in the Rye

By Catarina Vicente

“A complete waste of time.”

That was the Goodreads review I gave The Catcher in the Rye when I read it back in 2017. Apart from this review and the feeling of intense hatred I still harbor for this book, the novel left no meaningful impact on me, and remains to this day a hazy, unpleasant memory. The two main reasons for my hatred are the meandering plot and the protagonist, Holden Caulfield himself. 

Just like nothing meaningful or substantial happened throughout the book, Holden Caulfield never changed to become a better person in any way. We start the book with Holden already being a deeply unlikeable character, and nothing ever happens that challenges this; his character, although applauded by many as an accurate representation of adolescence, seemed to me more like the writer’s attempt at creating a parody of a teenager, throwing in the word ‘phony’ every once in a while to characterise him with the ‘colloquialisms’ of the time. Many relate to Caulfield because of his confusion towards his future – and that would have been fine, but Caulfield always had this cynical, ‘holier-than-thou’ attitude that made me detest him.

As for the meandering plot, it was the only reason I kept reading on – convinced that maybe, something would happen that would give the book purpose. But no, Caulfield spends the book moping around, never changes, perpetually stuck in a state of stagnancy with no chance for character development. 

Overall, I think my dislike for this book is exacerbated by the fact that this work is upheld as a classical masterpiece, when to me, it feels so devoid of message or purpose that, as my past self said, it felt like a complete waste of time.

Normal People

By Maddie Balcombe

If you haven’t heard of Sally Rooney’s critically acclaimed novel Normal People, where have you been? Recently, everyone I know has been reading this book, watching the TV adaptation, and crushing on Connell. During lockdown, I finally caved into the countless recommendations and decided to read Normal People. Controversial opinion alert: I absolutely hated it! In fact, the only reason I finished it was to see if it would suddenly get better and live up to the hype that surrounds it. Unfortunately, it didn’t.

“the only reason I finished it was to see if it would suddenly get better and live up to the hype that surrounds it. Unfortunately, it didn’t.”

My main issue with Normal People lies with the plot. The coming-of-age novel follows Irish teens, Marianne and Connell, as they venture into adulthood, start university and try to come to terms with their feelings for one another. As a young reader, I hoped that this would be a relatable read, but instead I found it unrealistic and repetitive. Each chapter follows the same theme: Marianne and Connell decide to give their relationship another go, they have sex, they have an argument and then they end things again. For the first few chapters, I was fully invested in this concept, but it soon began to wear thin. Rooney does also touch on some darker topics within the plot – like Marianne’s experiences of abuse, and the class divide between her and Connell. Introducing serious issues such as these should’ve added some depth to the plot and some much-needed layers to the characters. However, Rooney hardly scratches the surface of these topics and I couldn’t help but feel as though she’d included them for the sake of it.

Perhaps Sally Rooney was just trying to convey that normal people don’t always lead exciting lives, have deep conversations or experience fairy-tale romances, but her way of relaying these ideas into a 266-page novel missed the mark for me.

The Handmaid’s Tale

By Sophia Grace

At first, I was excited to read The Handmaid’s Tale as it was raved about everywhere and I was looking forward to studying it at A Level. Unfortunately, I wished it had stopped as soon as it started. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a brilliant idea and a really interesting dystopian world but it was just so BORING.

“Don’t get me wrong, it’s a brilliant idea and a really interesting dystopian world, but it was just so BORING.”

I thought it was because I was studying it but honestly looking at the book now still gives me shivers. The plot is all over the place and mostly consists of flashbacks (because the dystopian world was so idle). If you manage to get past chapter 16 then I salute you because after that chapter I wanted to rip my eyes out, I felt violated. I disliked the book so much that I only just (barely) finished it the night before my A Level exam. I think if the book were shorter then maybe it would have been bearable, but there was just so much content that was irrelevant to the plot line. In the end I just watched the series but even that was confusing as they added a whole new story line which left me googling the differences between the book and the series.

In conclusion, if you have a faint heart, do not read chapter 16, and if you can, try to read the rest and let me know if the historical notes section compensates for the rest of the book, and please don’t finish it the night before your A Level exam like me! 

1984

By Megan Evans

1984 was a book that I thoroughly enjoyed in terms of its engaging plot and brilliant imagery in its forward-thinking nature, but I feel like this may have had too much hype.   

This twisted tale of seeking the truth, by giving up love and accepting defeat for a totalitarian government left me feeling extremely underwhelmed. I wanted the defeat of Big Brother, not Winston, who had rebelled for the most part of the duration of the novel to end up not being with the female protagonist.

“It felt like a slow-paced pantomime at times.”

It felt like a slow-paced pantomime at times, especially the epitome of the story where they fall into the trap at O’Brien’s house. The attention to detail is very much to the point where I felt it was over-explaining such mundane images. As a classic tale that many cherish and love, I felt like it could’ve done with a bit more oomph. I carried on reading this for my A Level coursework, which I had used to inspire me to write creatively, and whilst mine was more mystery based, this was quite predictable at times.                                                

Whilst the storyline kept me going, I still feel like the language despite it being a dystopian theme, had almost not a lot of room for hope. In attempts to be a more philosophical book, you as a reader may progress to getting bored of some of the cyclical structures that are forcefully imposed. As a political statement back in its day, it seems to have a lot going for it, but it does appear incredibly dreary as it deals with such heavy content. Whilst this was written back in 1949 so the language is still wrapped up in post-war style which some may love or hate, the ideals behind this are incredibly striking, but if you are after a book with a positive outlook, 1984 won’t be for you.

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