Anyone who occasionally looks at these pages may be aware that I feel bad about abandoning books. I feel a duty – however odd – to finish a book once I’ve started it. Probably wrongly, I often feel it’s something lacking in me when I give up on a book. I feel am unable to appreciate something that’s often very widely acclaimed, I’m just too dim to get it when everyone else has.
No Laughing Matter by Angus Wilson is a book that’s sat on my shelves for longer than I can remember. My yellow paperback copy has a inscription written by an old work friend (long since lost) who gave me the copy as a gift. Giving up on a book that I always meant to get round to makes the process all the more disheartening. The novel came back to my attention as it’s one that often turns up in top 100 lists. It’s one of Peter Boxall’s 1001 books before you die. It also turned up in last Saturday’s Guardian, named by several contemporary authors as the out of print book they’d love to see available again.
So what’s my problem? I found No Laughing Matter, like most of Wilson’s work, very difficult to get into. I also found it incredibly dated for a novel only written in 1967. Perhaps because it looks back on the period between the two world wars in its microscopic study of an English middle class family, although there are some similarities with Waugh – and I don’t find his work as dated. There are also echoes of Joyce, and it’s here – Wilson’s irritating experimentation – that led me to toss the book aside. I’m really sorry. But the hot weather at the moment inspires reading in the park beneath a shady tree – and I don’t want to spoil such rare perfect days curled up with a novel I can’t stand…
Picking books from must read lists often has this effect on me. It’s the same with films – and I wouldn’t want to be watching Citizen Kane on a sunny day either.