One of the key aspects I appreciate in fiction is a sense of a highly creative imagination. If the imaginative aspect is interesting enough, I can forgive much. Sometimes I wonder if I'm too forgiving of works that I find sufficiently imaginative. And yet... Some books prove that imagination alone isn't enough.
Some years ago, I decided to give William Hope Hodgson's The Night Land a try. It's an early work of fantasy, written in 1912, and features a wildly imaginative take on a distant future when the sun has ceased shining and the last remnants of humanity live in a huge chasm miles beneath the surface (but presumably open to the surface). A fascinating and dark future of terrible powers arrayed against the humans.
I gave up.
Somewhere around the third chapter, I just decided that the it wasn't worth it, that what I was getting from the book didn't reward the effort to continue. The decision was in part an acknowledgment that I wouldn't finish the book before it was due at the library (because the narrative style is such that it takes effort to keep reading...). It was also came down to the fact that I wanted to read books that I would learn from, for my own writing. The Night Land is a book no writer should attempt to mimic. The writing is stilted and faux archaic, the structure is awkward, the focus on how many pills he did eat and on how modern readers should perceive the character...wearying, and the treatment of the true love by the narrator abusive and juvenile. It just came to the point where I did wot* that it wasn't worth continuing.
A website devoted to celebrating this book even states, "We think THE NIGHT LAND is one of the most colorful, inventive, and moving fictional worlds ever created. Haunting. Unmatchable. Unforgettable.
But the book, as it issued from Hodgson's pen in 1912, is crippled by an unreadable style.
For some reason Hodgson cast it in the frame of the future-dream of a gentleman of the 17th century. He attempted to reproduce the language of that period, with scant success."
And yet, I've decided to make another attempt. This time it's not a library book, but a Project Gutenberg text, so no worries about returning it when it's due. And also, I'm not reading it for what I can learn for my own writing, or at least not in the same way. It's a book I'll be glad to have read. The image of such a bleak future is compelling, despite the narrative approach. It feels, in a way, like outsider art, unaware of artistic (/narrative) approaches or conventions and forging onward in its own insular sense of what makes art (/literature) work. Reading it isn't enjoyable exactly, not in the way of other stories, but there is a train-wreck sort of fascination to it, with the reward of a compelling vision of the future.
This isn't meant to be a review (especially as I'm only a little past halfway through the book), but simply a record of a few thoughts as I'm reading. Plus, I came across this line today and wanted to quote it, because of the irony...
"And this is plain to you, and needing not of many words, which do so irk me."
They irk me too, William. They irk me, too.
*Yes, he uses that word, and far too often...