I don’t have a YouTube channel but often watch BookTube vlogs for background noise while I’m cooking. A tag which is currently doing the rounds is ‘Try a Chapter’ where people read just the first chapter of five books and review them: saying how they feel about continuing with the novel, and so forth.
As you have probably guessed, I have a large pile of books ‘To Be Read’ and I thought the Try a Chapter tag would help me to either prioritise reading them, or decide whether to discard them to the charity shop once and for all.
I chose five books completely at random:
Home by Marilynne Robinson
All that is solid melts into air by Darragh McKeon
The Vegetarian by Han Kang
Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones
The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco
This doesn’t actually have chapters! Which proves that I really did choose the books randomly. I read the first thirteen pages until there was a break in the narrative. The language of Home seems very convoluted. I think I would probably get into the rhythm of Marilynne Robinson’s prose, but at first I found it confusing. This starts very gently, but the first section ends on an interesting dispute between the main protagonists and their neighbours over the ownership of a field. The neighbours are nicknamed Mr and Mrs Trotsky and seem to represent ‘un-American’ values and Godlessness, compared to the Broughtons who have a family background of Christianity. I would probably carry on with this novel, but find it very slow paced so far.
All that is solid melts into air
This starts with the date April 1986 and the first chapter is written from the point of view of a young boy called Yevgeni, a child piano prodigy, who is being bullied by other children at a train station. I see that the next chapter is from another character’s viewpoint and I am interested to see how this works. The subject of the novel is the Chernobyl disaster and I am keen find out how this is handled by Darragh McKeon. The writing is not bad so far.
I have heard many positive reviews of this book on YouTube over the past year and know that it won the Man Booker Prize. It’s another novel without chapters and so I read the first twenty-six pages. It reminds me of The Yellow Wallpaper, in that it is an ambiguous description of an oppressive relationship, in which the wife is portrayed as having mental health issues, but which could also be her rebelling against social expectations. It mixes ordinary domesticity with disturbingly dreamlike elements. I shall continue to read this.
Edit: I read this and found that I didn’t enjoy it at all. The book is in three parts, told from different characters’ points of view. All of them have a relationship with, Yeong-hye, the mentally ill woman at the centre of the story. However,Yeong-hye is never given the opportunity to tell her own story. I found this, and the way she is sexualised by her husband and brother-in-law, to be dehumanising – which is perhaps the point of the novel? This is not really about a vegetarian – Yeong-hye seems to want to become a tree. Not my thing at all.
Oh dear. I don’t think much of this. I read two chapters to get a more accurate view of the novel (the chapters are very short) and I don’t feel that the voice of main protagonist/narrator seems authentic at all. She is a young girl, a black native of the island of Bougainville. This is apparently part of Papua New Guinea, but I had no sense of that from how she speaks. She introduces us to the only white person on the island, Mr Watts, who seems quite eccentric. There is nothing so far to give me a sense of geographic place or ambience. Unlike, for example, Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys, in which the island and the main character have a distinct identity and are beautifully described.
The Name of the Rose
I was very surprised by this. I know Umberto Eco by reputation as an intellectual. I also know that he was a great lover of books. I read the Prologue of this novel and was astounded by the lengths to which he had gone in order to make this seem like an authentic manuscript. However, because I also know that he was interested in postmodernism, I can see that it is also somewhat playful: like an intellectual puzzle. I thought that it would be too high brow for me, but I can’t wait to start reading it in earnest.
Well, there you go. I think this is a useful exercise for anyone who wants to downsize their TBR pile or is stuck to know what to read next. I would probably save a lot of money if I read the first chapter of novels before I bought them!