This is another book I studied last year for English. And it’s a book I vehemently disliked, as did my classmates, and the year before’s. It is an Australian novel which is relatively unknown (there’s not even a Wikipedia page on it! Much to the annoyance of some students who wanted to ‘research’ online – perhaps that was the intention of our teacher), but is on the list of prescribed texts for us to study, so, study we did. We actually paired this text with a film, Lantana, which is also Australian. It was a good pairing because they had quite similar themes and ideas, and the different mediums made a comparison more interesting. The book itself follows the story of Ursula, who really is living a non-life. She broke up with her boyfriend despite having a reasonable relationship, she cheated on him with their neighbour, she can’t communicate with her brother even though he’s frequently around, she is “lurching from disaster to disaster”. Which all ultimately stems from her time as a child on a family holiday to Candelo (which is a real country town).
The book is structured in a non-linear fashion, as we regularly change at each chapter to either the present (well technically it’s a more recent past – until the last chapter or so when we are actually in the present – note the change in tense) or their time in Candelo or some other past moment. There’s no helpful symbol saying yep we’re in the past, you have to figure that out, and sometimes it takes a while. But all this is supposed to be representative of Ursula’s own journey through her jumbled memories, as one thing reminds her of something else, and it shows her confusion with it all, and you as a reader experience this confusion.
The real climax of the story is when the truth about the accident at Candelo is revealed, and it’s not that shocking (spoiler: it was the brother driving), but the twist really isn’t the point of the story. It’s more about dealing with the past, and dealing with secrets. Neither of these things Ursula does very well, until the very end where she learns to let things go (there’s symbolism in the final passage if you’re looking for some).
This is a book that I really detested. It was so boring, the characters all were quite awful, Ursula herself was completely annoying and dry, the plot was quite non-existent and largely confusing. There were passages of the most mundane descriptions, which remind me a little of some of the classics which just drag on about nothing. Even the themes couldn’t redeem the book, they weren’t that interesting or powerful. I get that it is a literature ‘book’, and isn’t supposed to be exciting, it’s not about the plot, it’s about the story and the character development, and the themes and your emotional journey with it, but it wasn’t that good at all. And hey literature still needs to have some sort of engaging plot, otherwise there isn’t actually a story. The characters hardly developed at all, and it wasn’t emotional, and it wasn’t that well written (if you want this read The Book Thief!). The only good thing was that it only went on for 300 pages! There will be some people who like this sort of novel, but I’m not one of them. (And I can say that I have a pretty good understanding of the text and the themes and techniques used by Blain, but it still doesn’t change my opinion – and it’s not a case of having studied it in school it was ruined, I would have detested this either way.)
Have you had any experiences of a terribly boring book forced on you by school? How did you cope? What was wrong with the book? And did your teacher or classmates somehow love it?