Next up, a confessional list. Here are 13 great novels that I have failed to finish. They sit there on the shelves, bookmarks positioned halfway through, taunting me for my lack of staying power. Characters with their lives unfinished, stories left hanging, conflicts unresolved, lessons unlearned. Such books are different to those classics I have never got around to reading at all (Catcher in the Rye, To Kill a Mockingbird, any of the Harry Potter books), because their time may come eventually. These are those mountains that I tried to scale and failed, in some cases after repeated attempts. Perhaps I am only supposed to breath comfortably at a particular height and then no higher. But, come on, I’ve read Don Quixote, and that’s there on top of Everest. So who knows why. But here they are, in no particular order of unreadability…
1. Herman Melville, Moby Dick (top of many people’s such lists, I suspect)
2. Gustave Flaubert, Madame Bovary
3. François Rabelais, Gargantua and Pantgruel
4. Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace
5. James Joyce, Ulysses
6. Emily Brontë, Wuthering Heights
7. Gabriel García Márquez, 100 Years of Solitude
8. Wilkie Collins, The Woman in White
9. Stendhal, The Red and the Black
10. Ford Madox Ford, Parade’s End
11. Malcolm Lowry, Under the Volcano
12. Thomas Pynchon, V
13. George Eliot, Middlemarch (has anyone ever finished Middlemarch? Be honest)
10 thoughts on “13 unread classics”
Out of your list of 13, I’ve read and completed 2 Madame Bovary and Wuthering Heights. Tried Tolstoy, Ford, Collins and Joyce, finished none. Sadly, thanks to school I did read Catcher in the Rye, I have not looked back on that. No need to revist. The Potter novels are much fun. I applaud you, Don Quixote is a big accomplishment! KUDOS! Better man than I!
I think it was Flaubert who read Don Quixote once every year. A little beyond the call of duty. Madame Bovary defeated me halfway through. I just didn’t care what became of her.
Luke!! I think Middlemarch may well be the greatest English language novel ever. But ditto on Moby Dick. (I have read Bovary, Wuthering Heights, 100 Years of Solitude, and The Woman in White and liked/loved them.) Stendhal, Joyce, Trpllope, Spenser…kill me now. I don’t have to read War & Peace, I’ve read Anna Karenina three times.
Clearly I’m going to have to try again with Eliot. It was a long time ago that I failed. I’m thinking now that I should have ordered the list by those of which I read the most before giving up. Moby Dick would probably come top, Ulysses bottom (i.e. I gave up on it the soonest).
Well, I’m with you on Moby Dick, and wonder why Robert Duvall in the film Armageddon starts reading it to the blinded astronaut, talk about torture! Shocked re Middlemarch, give it another go, please, it is a great book but maybe you have to be in the mood but can’t say what that mood is. Perhaps a challenge to yourself – finish one of the list by year end
Hello Anna! Well, it looks like I have wandered into a Middlemarch trap here, and will have to take up the book again (it was 30 years ago). May not be this year, as the queue of books I have told myself I must read now is over half a shelf long as it is, but soon enough.
No irate defenders of Lowry, Rabelais or Pynchon as yet.
I’m with you on Ford Madox Ford, I tried, I really tried, but it was soooo very boring. So dull. Even the recent television effort was dull, Cumberbatch notwithstanding. I usually enjoy lit from that period.
I’ve tried several times to read Infinite Jest; several friends think David Foster Wallace was the best thing since…well, since best things were invented. I looked forward to having long conversations with them about it. Fail. Epic fail. But I’m not yet giving up.
Now I’m all depressed. I think I’ll go read a book where cats solve crimes.
Parade’s End is the one where I’m saddest about admitting failure, as The Good Soldier is among my top 3 favourite novels, maybe number one (no, Tristram Shandy has to beat it). I settled down believing that Parade’s End would be a huge treat, and it just struck me as so false. I’ll try again, one day.
I’ve never tried out David Foster Wallace. Nor have I read a book where cats solve crimes, but I think I know which of them might be the better option.
I concur with previous comments about Middlemarch – I loved it. You need to immerse yourself in Eliot’s world. I’m surprised you didn’t get on with The Woman in White as I thought it great fun (perhaps go with The Moonstone first to ease yourself in). Under the Volcano chimes with my experience; it’s rare for me to leave a book unfinished, but I never managed to get through that one.
I failed with The Moonstone too. Heigh ho.