I haven’t posted about a Fail Pile book in a long time for a couple of reasons: (1) The number of books I start and don’t finish is very low and (2) I usually don’t have anything to say about them. Except I do this time.
Usually, I’ll stop reading a book because I get bored with it – which is what happened sometime last year with Ken Kesey‘s Sometimes a Great Notion. By all accounts, that’s a great book, but it’s really long, and I just couldn’t get through it. The same thing happened with The Casual Vacancy, which isn’t bad, but, well, boredom. I just stopped reading and didn’t want to talk about them. But then I come to Un Lun Dun. I’ve started to trust Goodreads recommendations because they’re usually fantastic. Some of the best books I’ve read in a long time have shown up on that list. Un Lun Dun has been there a while, and it’s been compared to some of my favorite stories: The Wizard of Oz, Alice in Wonderland, and The Phantom Tollbooth. And it is exactly what you’d expect from a combination of those three books, except that it isn’t very good.
China Miéville has been on my list for a while. Several people (and probably Goodreads) have recommended The City and the City, comparing it to Neil Gaiman‘s Neverwhere, which I loved. One day a couple of years ago, I grabbed a copy and sat down in one of the (now gone) chairs at Barnes and Noble. I read the first few pages and stopped when I got to the word “Inspector” because I hate mysteries, and I knew what was coming. (That’s another bias I know I need to address, but that’s for another time.) I hadn’t tried reading Miéville since.
But Un Lun Dun is supposed to be good! And it is, as I said, a combination of three of my favorite stories. It’s like a 12-year-old’s version of Neverwhere (even the name harkens a similar London underworld: Un Lun Dun is UnLondon. There’s also a Parisn’t, and so on. Ugh). All things I like, you say. Except there’s almost zero character development. Every single one of them is flat, which means that I don’t care what happens to anyone. The premise turns me off, too: the protagonist is fighting smog. Meh. I made it to page 120 of 400, or so, and gave up. That far in, and I still don’t know whether I like any of them because instead of spending a little time letting the reader getting to know who he’s supposed to follow through this book, Miéville jumps right into the action. Several years ago, when I first read Harry Potter, I wondered why J.K. Rowling spent so much time with Harry before whisking him away to Hogwarts – and this is why. It’s the same with Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. We have to get to know and like Charlie in his boring, sad life before we understand his experiences at Wonka’s. In Un Lun Dun, we’re presented a 12- or 13-year-old who we know is blonde and tall for her age, but that’s about it. She doesn’t appear to be especially stupid or mean, but that’s not enough to catch my interest. So I quit. The end.
That was a much longer explanation than I’d planned…