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Old 21st Nov 2005, 3:48   #1
Bookie
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Post Top Ten Unfinished Books

I'm a bit ashamed, as it's been rather a long time since I've actually *finished* a book! The last three novels I've picked up have all been temporarily abandoned about midway through. But it becomes a vicious cycle. I have every intention of finishing one book, get about 150 pages in, then start in on another one (promising to finish it quickly then dutifully go back to the first one), get about 100 pages in, and then pick up the third. The longer this goes on, the more I'm beginning to think there's something wrong with ME (as opposed to the books -- hey, they can't all be gripping, right?)

It's awful, partly because you want to tell people that you've read such-and-such book, but that's only a half-truth. And I don't know about others, but I always find it very hard to return to an unfinished book and pick up where you left off. I'm not sure how the Victorians did it (with serials and instalments and whatnot), but my twenty-first century short term memory doesn't allow me to remember the names of all the characters and their various connections.

Anyhow, in an attempt to make myself feel better, I compiled a list of great books that I actually have read - only the twist is, they're all unfinished books themselves. And it kind of worked, realizing that even great writers don't always finish what they start! To what extent these works are "unfinished" is open to debate, but here's what I came up with:

1. THE AENEID (Virgil) -- Wow, you know Virgil wanted the manuscript for his epic burned after his death? Man, I can hardly bear to dispense with lousy school papers, never mind poetic masterworks!

2. IN SEARCH OF LOST TIME (Marcel Proust) -- Okay, I haven't read all of this. A lot of the middle books are a blur, but I've read "Swann's Way" and "Time Regained" and they're predictably awesome.

3. THE BROTHERS KARAMAZOV (Fyodor Dostoevsky) -- Feels complete, but apparently Dostoevsky was going to write another Book.

4. THE TRIAL (Franz Kafka) -- The Master at not finishing things.

5. DEAD SOULS (Nikolai Gogol) -- Unlike Virgil, he actually did burn the second half of his novel. But what remains is a funny and vital as any Russian fiction I've read.

6. THE CASTLE (Franz Kafka) -- See "The Trial".

7. THE MYSTERY OF EDWIN DROOD (Charles Dickens) -- You know, I read this one not knowing it was his last book, or that it was incomplete. Imagine my disappointment...

8. THE BOOK OF DISQUIET (Fernando Pessoa) -- Not so much unfinished as unassembled. The fragments that make up this "novel" were collected from a trunk after Pessoa's death. Therefore no one really knows the order in which they should be read (if indeed there is an order). Still, it's an astonishingly affecting work; a hybrid, really, consisting of fiction, essay and philosophy. I believe an Amazon customer reviewer described it as akin to a twentieth century "Confessions" of St. Augustine. Can't say I much disagree with that...

9. THE MAN WITHOUT QUALITIES (Robert Musil) -- Okay, I haven't read all of this one either. But I endeavour to return to it... soon.

10. BILLY BUDD (Herman Melville) -- I'm not even sure I would want Mr. Melville himself touching the "Billy Budd" we have today. Incomplete it may be, but it's also one of the most staggeringly beautiful and moving novellas I've ever read. A masterpiece of short fiction; I compare it with James's "Turn of the Screw", Mann's "Death in Venice" and Conrad's "Heart of Darkness".

A final note: I realize that most of these authors didn't get to finish their books because they died, and I don't finish the books I start reading because I'm lazy, so there really is no comparison, but hey, que sera!

Last edited by Bookie; 21st Nov 2005 at 3:58.
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Old 21st Nov 2005, 8:28   #2
John Self
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Default Re: Top Ten Unfinished Books

Excellent list, Bookie!


Quote:
4. THE TRIAL (Franz Kafka) -- The Master at not finishing things.
This gives me another opportunity to wheel out one of my favourite Martin Amis lines: "I can never finish a book by Kafka - but then, neither could Kafka."

Quote:
8. THE BOOK OF DISQUIET (Fernando Pessoa)
This explains why my local bookshop had two editions of this side by side recently, one published by Penguin and one by Serpent's Tail, and the Penguin one was twice as long as the other one. I was confused.
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Old 21st Nov 2005, 15:53   #3
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Default Re: Top Ten Unfinished Books

Yes, a good list and your situation reminds me of mine a while back. The solution? Read short books!
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Old 24th Nov 2005, 15:49   #4
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Default Re: Top Ten Unfinished Books

My list is not long, but it is prestigious...

The Island of the Day Before - Umberto Eco
Foucault´s Pendulum - see above - I gave him a second chance.
The Chonicles of Thomas Covenant - Stephen Donaldson
Ship of Magic - Robin Hobb
The Emperor´s New Mind - Roger Penrose
The Avignon Quintet - Lawrence Durrell - BUT I´M STILL TRYING
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Old 11th Dec 2005, 17:40   #5
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Default Re: Top Ten Unfinished Books

Don Delillo "Underworld"

Anything by Salman Rushdie (well Midnight's Children & Shame). What's wrong with me?
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Old 5th Jan 2007, 7:33   #6
John from Paris
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Default Re: Top Ten Unfinished Books

I tend to encourage myself by saying: "If (s)he could be bothered to finish writing it, I can surely manage to finish reading it?"

But I did give up with:
The Lord of the Rings
War and Peace
Tristram Shandy
The Bible


And, in a vastly inferior league:
White Teeth
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Old 5th Jan 2007, 7:48   #7
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Default Re: Top Ten Unfinished Books

I also gave up on White Teeth, and Bel Canto, and Vanity Fair (which is supposed to be the 'best' book ever written if such an accolade can ever be justified). Does anyone recommend I give any of these another go? I just couldn't get into them.
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Old 5th Jan 2007, 8:34   #8
John from Paris
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Default Re: Top Ten Unfinished Books

bg:
I finished Vanity Fair, but with little enthusiasm... I feel it pales considerably beside Middlemarch (the best English novel ever, for my money) and the best Dickens.
In the "superlatives category", White Teeth is to my mind the most unjustifiably over-hyped novel of the last ten years (at least). It really is a load of pretentious tripe.
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Old 5th Jan 2007, 9:36   #9
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Default Re: Top Ten Unfinished Books

Quote:
Originally Posted by John from Paris View Post
In the "superlatives category", White Teeth is to my mind the most unjustifiably over-hyped novel of the last ten years (at least). It really is a load of pretentious tripe.
But it is a work of genius compared to her follow up, The Autograph Man.

My own (rather impressive) list of classic non finishers:

1. Moby Dick
2. Ulysses (naturally)
3. Tristram Shandy
4. Jane Eyre
5. The Wings of the Dove
6. Daniel Deronda
7. any Conrad I have picked up apart from Heart of Darkness
8. As I Lay Dying (although it didn't stop me writing an essay about it in my A level)
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Old 5th Jan 2007, 10:40   #10
John from Paris
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Default Re: Top Ten Unfinished Books

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Originally Posted by jim View Post
But [White Teeth] is a work of genius compared to her follow up, The Autograph Man.
All things being relative, then? I haven't bothered with her follow-ups, though I'm still inclined to give On Beauty a stab.

Quote:
My own (rather impressive) list of classic non finishers:

4. Jane Eyre
6. Daniel Deronda
4. > surprised you abandoned* this...
6. > not surprised you gave up on this, though...

*EDIT: wondering if my use of abandon here (and doubtless elsewhere) is a slightly over-literal translation from the French... so: surprised you didn't get through this [?]

Last edited by John from Paris; 6th Jan 2007 at 12:24. Reason: bilingual grey areas...
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