I can't be the only one who feels a sense of grim obligation to finish whatever novel I've started. This isn't the case with secondary sources--as J. Paul Hunter once said in an MA seminar, that's what the index is for--but novels seem different, somehow. It's as though I'm betraying an unwritten compact with the author. More likely, though, it's just shame: I'm an English professor, therefore I should be able to slog my way through anything. And given what I read in my academic persona--Victorian historical novels (bad), sermons (boring), didactic literature (yikes), religious propaganda (gulp)--you'd think that my mental constitution would be strong enough to withstand anything the most stylistically challenged contemporary author might care to throw at me. Usually, it is. In the past decade, I've had to raise the white flag only twice, and in response to two very different novels:
1. Thomas Pynchon, Mason and Dixon. If my department chair is reading this, I'm in trouble, because she's a fan. I've never had much stomach for Pynchon in the first place, but I hoped that this novel would remedy the situation. No such luck--I gave up after one hundred pages of faux eighteenth-century prose. If you protest indignantly that Pynchon is a great novelist, I'll nod and agree with you, but...well...surely the execution is just a wee bit heavy-handed? I'll probably try this one again, though.
And now, from a completely different literary universe:
2. Ciji Ware, The Island of the Swans. I'm a specialist in historical fiction, but I've always had a *cringe* response to historical romances--despite fellow academics who swear by them for good escapist fun. Besides, I thought I should read at least one romance, in the interest of genre coverage, and I'd heard decent things about this one. Oh. Dear. Lord. I couldn't get past the "handsome" William Pitt the Younger (huh?), flirting right and left (whah?) and ogling our heroine (you've got to be kidding me). I mean, Pitt had numerous virtues, but when did hunkiness become one of them? (I've been looking for a quotation from one contemporary society painter, possibly Hoppner, who said something to the effect that Pitt was the least artistically inspiring subject he'd ever had.)
UPDATE: Typo fixed (in response to correction).