Posted by: Jeanie F | February 8, 2010

Handling Disappointment


Here’s the thing – I had a long weekend, rain in the forecast, a killer cold, AND two good books. Or so I thought. This is actually the formula for a perfect weekend, as far as I’m concerned, so maybe my expectations were too high. Or maybe the cold threw off my judgment. Whatever it was, two books that I was really looking forward to reading have turned out to be big disappointments.

I’ll start with The Museum of Innocence by Orhan Pamuk. This book is our February book club book and has been touted everywhere. The New York Times review, written by Maureen Howard, says,

“Part of the delight in “The Museum of Innocence” is in scouting out the serious games, yet giving oneself over to the charms of Pamuk’s storytelling. He often makes use of genre, turns the expected response to his purpose.”  

She then goes on to say, “There’s not much plot to “The Museum of Innocence”; and why should there be, if the artist is free? ”   

Maybe, just maybe, the plot is an important part of storytelling? Maybe the reader would like to experience something more than page after page of the kind of purple prose that the Harlequin Romance Publishers have cranked out so successfully for years. Here are a few examples:

“In that moment, on the afternoon of Monday, May 26, 1975, at about a quarter to three, just as we felt ourselves to be beyond sin and guilt so too did the world seem to have been released from gravity and time. Kissing Fusun’s shoulder, already moist from the heat of our lovemaking, I gently entered her from behind, and as I softly bit her ear, her earring must have come free and, for all we knew, hovered in midair before falling of its own accord. Our bliss was so profound that we went on kissing, heedless of the fall of the earring, whose shape I had not even noticed.”

Or this:

“Like a child she took a deep breath, sobbed once or twice, and burst into tears again. To touch her body and her lovely long arms, to feel her breasts pressed against my chest, to hold her like that, if only for a moment, made my  head spin: Perhaps it was because I was trying to repress the desire, more intense each time I touched her, that I conjured up this illusion that we had known each other for years, that we were already very close.”

The fact that Pamuk is a Nobel winner would lead us to expect better. In a Reader Review on the Museum of Innocence website , a reviewer writing under the name “Diana” asks, “Can no one tell the emperor he has no clothes?” That perfectly sums up my own evaluation of this tedious and disappointing book. I got about a quarter of the way through and gave up.

But I wasn’t concerned – I had asked for Little Bee by Chris Cleave for Christmas and was looking forward to reading the story of a Nigerian girl who escapes violence in her village to become a refugee to England, where she comes to terms with the life and experiences she left behind.

Let me say right off that Little Bee isn’t the disappointment that Museum of Innocence is. There are truly engaging parts, especially those narrated by Little Bee, herself. Unfortunately, Cleave made the decision to alternate Little Bee’s narration with that of Sarah Summers O’Rourke, an English woman with whom Little Bee shared the horror of her experience in Nigeria. This part of the novel (Sarah’s narration) is seriously contrived – doubly so because the juxtaposition of Sarah’s superficial life and narration is a jarring contrast to that of Little Bee. Maybe it was because of this, maybe it was the overstated and somewhat heavy-handed manner in which Cleave made his points about overcoming the past, living in peace, etc., but what should have been a story with strong emotion and an important message just didn’t work for me.

I still have half a day of my long weekend left – time to go peruse my bookshelves!

Grade: Incomplete


  1. Oh no, I am sorry to hear that the books didn’t meet your expectations, there is nothing worse than being all excited about a book, and then being thoroughly disappointed by it. I felt like that after reading The Road by Cormac McArthy and The Gathering by Anne Enright. I hope you have some better reading luck soon.

  2. I couldn’t agree more about The Gathering, which came with great reviews and recommendations. My book club read it a year or so ago, and everyone hated it!

    Personally, I’m a Cormac McCarthy fan, but The Road was so bleak…I haven’t made up my mind about seeing the movie, but I’ve been reluctant. After all, do I want to be subjected to that level of devastation without even having the benefit of McCarthy’s great writing?

    I’m going to try The Heretic’s Daughter by Kathleen Kent now, and hope my luck improves. Thanks for your support!

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