On not Finishing a Book/”The Luminous Dead”/What I am Reading

I want to talk a little bit about not finishing books. My last didn’t finish was “Angkor and the Khmer Empire: A History of Cambodia’s Legendary Temple Building Civilization” which wasn’t a history of anything, but rather a poorly written guidebook which looked like it had been translated via google translate. It was awful, and I feel I was conned out of the $10 I spent on it. 

However, I never start a book without the intention of finishing it. The prior big failure to finish of mine was an attempt to read “The Malazan Book of the Fallen” in one go (it’s a ten book series, with ‘side books’)— I got through the first three novels, and then burned out. In this case, I blame the reader, not the writer. Erickson’s story bobs and weaves all over the place, and I don’t think the books are designed to be read in that fashion, especially on a first go-round. 

But, for the most part, if I make it halfway through a book, it’s going to get finished. The shorter the book, the higher the probability is that I will finish it. I’m a fairly fast reader, so I’ll just knuckle under and knock it out. I know there are people who disagree with this philosophically, and I don’t have an argument with them: reading is something that takes time to do, and how one spends one’s time is really not a concern of mine. 

So, I finished “The Luminous Dead” yesterday. I wanted to like it— there’s a lot on the surface that interests me. It’s pitched as a sci-fi horror novel, which I have a weakness for. It features strong female protagonists, and does so in a way that doesn’t feel forced. It has some interesting ideas. And it’s… hard to get through. 

The book features two protagonists, and only one of them is actually involved in the action. The problem with that, overall, is that tension starts to dissolve because the only character involved in the action is extremely unlikely to die, barring some radical shift in the narrative. There’s no radical shift in the narrative here, and the protagonist is constantly in some form of peril that you can rest assured she will escape from.

So what we get is a lot of descriptions of caves, climbing, and descending. And swimming. They are well written passages, and there’s a sense of place, and the author has done some research into what cave exploration is actually like. It’s unpleasant, cramped, hard work, and there’s really a sense of that. But that’s kind of it. 

There’s an overarching plot, of course, and a shadowy monster lurking in the background (called “tunnelers”), and a central mystery, but after a few days my overriding memory of the book isn’t any of those things. There’s a final confrontation with a tunneler, but it’s really short and perfunctory. 

There’s a third part to the book, and that is a budding romance between the two protagonists (Em and Gyre, for the record). It’s decent enough, and believeable in a trauma bonding sort of way— though as some people have pointed out, even after Em and Gyre bond, Em treats Gyre in a less than ethical manner at a number of points. I didn’t mind it, but I can see it rankling some folks. 

By the end, I was reading as fast as I could manage. This was meant to be a ‘light’ read and it had begun to feel like work. I got there, but by the end I was just reading to see how things ended, not because I was engaged. 


What I am Reading

“I Is Another” — Jon Fosse. Continuing through the Septology; it’s as engaging and thoughtful as the first book thus far. 

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