‘DNF guilt’ – 3 books I did not finish and why

Within the last few weeks, I’ve started and then abandoned three books. This is quite unusual for me. I choose my reads carefully, previewing where possible, to ensure they’re books I’m likely to enjoy. But sometimes I just have to give up on them. I then feel guilty for not finishing. The author has worked hard to craft the writing and I’m not honouring their labour. Yet my reading time is limited and too precious to waste on ploughing through books which I really dislike. It’s also fascinating that people can have such different experiences of books. What’s troubling is when new books are hyped so much and then they’re inevitably disappointing. The three books below were overhyped, and I knew this, but I wasn’t expecting to actually dislike them…

Different Class by Joanne Harris. This is the sequel to the school themed thriller Gentlemen & Players. It started off well, with the twisty plot and vaguely menacing school atmosphere of its predecessor. But it kept swapping between the present day and twenty years ago, in the same location, which confused me as I couldn’t always tell which time it was. And then there were the acts of animal cruelty by one of the main characters. That was a major turn-off and I flicked through the (long) book and realised I didn’t care at all what the ending was. Maybe I’ve outgrown Joanne Harris too. Anyway, this book was from a charity shop and back it went about a quarter-read.

Into the Water by Paula Hawkins. I already knew that opinion on this one was mixed. I’d read The Girl on the Train, another book which doesn’t deserve the hype but has become what I call a ‘bandwagon book’… even people who don’t normally read, aim to read it because it’s trendy (see also, Fifty Shades and The Da Vinci Code). I thought there were some good aspects to Hawkins’ debut though so I was curious about the second novel. Unfortunately it’s not great, with confusing characters who have similar voices, some clunky writing and yes, more animal cruelty (seriously why do authors have to put that in?) – I returned the e-book to the library after reading about a third of the story. I wasn’t motivated enough to find out the ending, which means the book basically fails at being a psychological thriller.

Vox by Christina Dalcher. Now this is a controversial choice. I heard so much about this book and saw so many rave reviews that I reserved the library e-book. When I finally got to borrow it, I was really looking forward to it. The first few chapters were compelling. Immediately we’re drawn into a world which seems to be a descendent of Trump’s America, in which society has become more conservative particularly regarding the role of women. The concept of only being allowed to speak a hundred words a day is an intriguing one. The pacing was also just right. So why didn’t I finish it? Well, sorry to say, the writing started to bore me. I got to the point where the narrator is working in a lab with her colleagues and it all goes a bit neuroscience-y (the author has a specialism in phonetics and theoretical linguistics), with flashbacks to a boring affair from before the government changed. I kept checking how many pages I had to get through, which is not a good sign. The book also seemed too much like a watered-down version of The Handmaid’s Tale. I just had no impetus to carry me through the mediocre writing and I assumed the government was brought down anyway (as hinted in the opening lines of the novel) so I wasn’t curious as to how it ends.

I don’t normally review books I didn’t finish, but I suppose in a way I’ve just done that… and I still don’t know the endings.

How often do you abandon a book and for what reasons? How do you feel when you DNF it?

19 thoughts on “‘DNF guilt’ – 3 books I did not finish and why”

  1. The only one of these I’ve read is Vox and I totally agree with your views! It starts off so well. To me, it felt like two different people had read the first and second half. Definitely a bit ‘meh’. Great blog post!

    1. Thanks! Yes, it did start off well & I thought I was going to like it. But no, it doesn’t deserve the hype.

  2. I have read Into The Water. It was reasonably well written but I cannot say I really enjoyed it. and I agree with you about the characters having similar voices.
    Paula Hawkins is a somewhat overhyped author. I don’t think her books are bad, but they are not as good as they are made out to be.
    I rarely DNF a book, mainly in the hope that it will improve drastically later on. Like you, I choose my reads carefully.

    1. Well done on getting to the end of Into the Water! I hope Paula Hawkins’ next book will be an improvement. I wouldn’t say her books are bad as such, but in another author’s hands they might be better.
      I think if a book is from the library, I’m more likely to not finish – I haven’t bought it, I’m not doing a review in exchange either, so I don’t lose anything by not finishing.

  3. I personally loved VOX, I understand where you are coming from though and I’ve heard many with similar views, although the biggest controversy seems to be the ending. I thought it was a perfect ending and in keeping with the overall message of the book, but I know many who wanted something very different!
    I rarely DNF, in fact I can’t actually remember when I last DNF’d a book. I’ve been very lucky with my blog so far that I’ve enjoyed the books I’ve read!

    1. Glad you were one of the many who enjoyed Vox – I think the majority of reviews I’ve seen were positive.
      Yes, lucky with your book choices – it’s always disappointing to not finish a book or to carry on reading a book that’s not enjoyable.

  4. Really interesting post. I think negative reviews are OK as long as the writers are not tagged. Also, its fine not to like books. I recently read a book which was massively hyped, and I had huge issues with the last quarter of the book. I struggled to find another reviewer who had read the book and had similar views to my own. Was so relieved when I did.

    1. Thank you 🙂
      We definitely need negative reviews, otherwise there won’t be a true picture of what people thought of the book. However I’m reluctant to write a full review (or what passes for a full review on my blog!) of a book I didn’t finish… but I felt that I needed to write a little about these 3 books.

  5. I’m happy to DNF books when I have to, life is too short isn’t it? I don’t write reviews of any I DNF but I found this post really interesting about why you didn’t finish a book. Also I’m quite happy to say in my reviews if I didn’t connect with a particular novel and why – although I try to make it constructive and not like I’m deliberately bashing the author coz that’s never nice. I think that’s why in my more critical reviews I try to find something positive to say as well even if that’s just that I might not be the right kind of reader for this book! ?

    1. I agree that reviews should ideally be constructive and try to see any good points if possible! I’m sure that every book will connect with somebody somewhere and it may be that I start a book and it’s not what I thought it was. Thanks for your comment 🙂

  6. Omg I’m so glad I haven’t read VOX for the simple reason you stated! The watered down version of The Handmaid’s Tale! And I’m definitely not gonna even try reading Into the Water..not gonna fall for the hype hahahaha Love this post, NS!

    1. Don’t let me put you off Vox if you were intending to read it – most reviews I’ve seen of it are positive! You might love it.
      Thank you Jee 🙂

  7. I found the Girl on the Train not up to the hype at all (although I couldn’t put it down). I won’t bother with her next book then. I think DNFing books is a gift of more time to read better books, definitely a good thing.

    1. Agree, time’s too short to waste on books you don’t like. I wouldn’t recommend Hawkins’ second book.

  8. I really thought girl on the train was way too overhyped as well- so I didn’t pick up into the water- and to be honest, given how it sounds, I’m glad I didn’t bother. Great post!

    1. Indeed, I think a lot of readers felt the same – overhyped first novel, disappointing second novel (does that indicate a really awful third novel?) – but with effective marketing this author has become extremely successful.

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