Posted by: Natalie | June 24, 2011

Is It Just Me?

I am really struggling with The French Lieutenant’s Woman. John Fowles’ books are hugely popular, hold critical acclaim and are widely respected. I feel like I am supposed to enjoy his narrative and I am quite certain that the heroine, Sarah Woodruff, is meant to be just the sort of melancholy lady to hold my attention. I have been pottering around with this book in my handbag or on my bed side table for what feels like an age, but I find it almost impossible to get into. I have barely cracked the spine if I am honest, only managing a few pages in each attempt to read it. I just can’t seem to find any motivation to get along.

I am not adverse to books which wind slowly into the plot, in fact I quite like them, but they need to open with enough intrigue to make me read on. Fowles clearly wants to tempt me, is trying quite hard to grab my attention yet I am finding it incredibly difficult to care. The characters don’t intrigue me one bit, despite the historical context (which again I should be enjoying) they seem empty and, dare I say it, a little pointless. I know if I push on I will probably find something a little more redeeming, but I am losing patience. It should tell me something that when I have read a page I cannot recall a single moment of it. I have been skimming over words and lines without realising, only to find several minutes later that I have been constructing shopping lists, or planning tomorrow’s lessons or thinking through recipes I wish to try. At which point I would usually flick back to my starting point and try again – not so with this one. I am finding it so tedious that I can’t even be bothered to find out what plot I have missed – possibly a cyclical problem here.

There are small elements I like, the odd line from Fowles which makes me smile – the perceptions and attitudes of his male lead, Charles, mainly. Or some of the comparisons with more contemporary fiction. However, on the whole I keep feeling like I need to scream at his insipid detail. I am probably not trying hard enough, but there is the chance I have now put the final nail in the coffin. A little research educates me as to one of John Fowles’ own literary favourites – Thomas Hardy.

My reading nemsis

My eyes widened with dawning comprehension as my heart sunk – this is why I cannot get along. I can’t read Hardy, at all. I have yet to find it accessible or entertaining. Sarah, the Woman is supposedly modelled on Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles, a book so unbelievably depressing and arduous I only keep hold of in case I ever need emergency fire lighters. Am I wrong in my feeling? These are two heavy weights of the English literary fabric and I am threatening to use them as kindling. I have a huge moral outcry whenever I read about historical (or modern day) book burnings, but I sincerely believe these books may be put to better use in my life! They are safe for the meantime as I have no live fire or barbecue.

Perhaps there is something wrong with me. I have been sleepy and distracted of late and my reading time has once again been severed, but I am not even trying to up the hours. Not while Fowles is sat staring at me. I don’t think I am ready to abandon ship just yet, I am so certain that there must be something I can hook onto within the pages, I just worry that if I keep trying right now I will slowly come to hate language altogether!! Maybe I shall add it to the moving pile to adorn the window sill of my new bedroom in September. It could be that it is a book which requires no other distractions what so ever, so will be better suited to evenings alone under a blanket. I think though, I am also a little jealous. Steve is currently wading his way through the mammoth epic which is the Game of Thrones series by American author George R. R. Martin, currently being televised I believe on Sky Atlantic, another HBO masterpiece. These bricks of books (book three was apparently so long the author was forced to publish in two parts, both very weighty beasts) seem thrilling – Steve gives me updates which I can’t possibly begin to follow, but on reading he is utterly absorbed and lost within the mountain of pages. I want something which engages me like this. Perhaps not something which could be used as a lethal weapon, but something which fires my imagination and inspiration. Sadly, The French Lieutenant’s Woman just isn’t it. I am quite an impatient reader, and quite demanding I think as well. Which is a shame for those books that don’t instantly cut the mustard. Maybe one more try this weekend. We’ll see if I can be bothered!

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Responses

  1. I struggle with the heavier literary stuff too? Do you know where it’s set? I found that I got through TFLW mostly because my family went on holiday in Lyme Regis every summer for years and it was easier to read the book set in my second home.
    Have you seen the film? Normally I shy away from watching the film of the book before I’ve read the book, but it was shot in Lyme Regis itself and uses the exact locations that Fowles describes. They even found a way to cover up the road markings on the streets.

    • oh thanks for that, think I will definitely give the film a go. I have not been to Lyme Regis so don’t know the geography particularly well. I think my biggest problem with the book was that I started it in the wrong frame of mind and such disjointed reading made the cloud settle rather than shift. I know I will try again at some point – I suspect I need to put in some dedicated reading time at the beginning to get over the initial hurdles, to actually get into the meat of the story.

      Thank you so much for your comment, it has made me put the book back on the ‘to read pile’ rather than the one which will be ignored forever more!!

      Nat x


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