TBR challenge: Rosalind Belbin

So Emily’s TBR challenge, where we’re supposed to read 20 books from our TBR piles and post on them? I’m doing awesomely well (as long as I ignore the part of the challenge that says we aren’t supposed to buy any more books, which I’ve ignored from the very beginning, practically). I have now read or attempted to read 17 of the books on my list and am in the middle of the 18th. Oh, I haven’t quite posted on every book, but I’ve posted on almost every book, which is pretty good. You can see my progress in the sidebar on the right.

The one book on the list that I started but didn’t finish is Rosalind Belbin’s Our Horses in Egypt. I was sorry about setting that one aside. I knew it would be a bit of a challenge, and I was fine with that, but it turned out not to be the kind of challenge I wanted. I made it maybe 100 pages into the book before I quit. I like the idea behind the book, which is that it switches back and forth between stories, moving from a woman who travels to Egypt in the years after World War I to find her horse who had been requisitioned for use in the army, and the story of what happened to that horse, Philomena, during the war. The sections telling Philomena’s story are interesting because Belbin captures a sensibility that seems somehow just right. The perspective is a close third person, and even though we don’t really know what a horse experiences, the attempt to capture it here felt genuine.

But the style wasn’t working for me, unfortunately. Belbin throws a lot of information at the reader without much explanation, details of the war scenes especially, and it’s hard to piece all the details together. There’s a disjointed feeling to it all. The paragraphs tended to be short and often not clearly connected to each other. Although I liked much about the Philomena sections, the confusing details were particularly a problem in these sections. I can appreciate that perhaps Belbin was trying to capture Philomena’s experience for the reader — the confusion and uncertainty she was experiencing as she had little idea what was going on — but still, that appreciation wasn’t enough to justify continuing to read.

It’s not that I don’t want to work a little when I read. Virginia Woolf’s Jacob’s Room was similarly disconnected in style and required work on the part of the reader to piece everything together. But I was interested in the ideas in that book in a way I wasn’t in Belbin’s. There was something about the mood and atmosphere of each book that kept me interested in one but not in the other.

Several other readers of this book really loved it, though, so if you have thought about reading this one, don’t discount it because of me. I just never clicked with it in the way I wanted to, and I’m trying to be better about setting books aside when they aren’t working for me.

9 Comments

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9 responses to “TBR challenge: Rosalind Belbin

  1. SFP

    The style in this one does make you work. Belbin seemed intent on not providing a single crumb of explanation for anything.

    But once I did get into it, I loved the book. I wonder if you’d have a better experience with it if you came back to it later. I don’t think I’d have the focus for it at the beginning of a semester.

  2. This is one I actually read and appreciated but found really challenging as you say. I’ve not done too well with books of this sort this year, however, so I wonder if it was purely a timing thing–there were other bloggers reading it and talking about it,which made it more clear as I was reading. I don’t generally do well with disjointed narratives unless I have some sort of “guidance”. I have another of her books and am wondering if the style is the same, but I’ve not gotten around to it yet. You’ve done really well on your list though. I had a list I was reading from, but I think once again it has been forgotten–I should pull it out and take a look at it again…

  3. Who’s that idiot who decided we ought to read twenty books before buying any new ones?

    You are doing far better with your list than I am with mine — although I am getting through it. But since I just bought four books last week, we can see I’m not being very disciplined about keeping the house from being over-run by books while I try to get through my little challenge.

    Good for you for knowing when to give up on a book. There’s far too much great stuff to be read to waste your time with something that isn’t working for you.

  4. I’ve been having that “failure to click” problem a LOT lately, especially with novels, even those that seem like dead certs for things I should love. So I can sympathize. For some reason I’m quite attached to the idea of liking Belbin, so I might still check out this novel or Hound Music at some point…but will keep in mind the level of disconnectedness and work she requires of the reader. As much as I love Woolf, Jacob’s Room is one of my less-favorite works of hers for that reason.

  5. SFP — well, the truth is that I read it in the middle of the summer, during a fairly quiet time. But you are right that I might do better with it in a different mood. I think I’m more in the mood for easier reads these days. I wish I had had the experience of coming to love the book as you and others did!

    Danielle — reading this with other people would help, I think. It might have kept me motivated until I got to the point where the story starts clicking. I could see that that might happen, but I just didn’t have the patience to get there. I kind of like reading from a list, or at least it has gone well for me this year. I might do it again when I finish this one up.

    Emily B. — I’ve done pretty terribly about keeping my shelves from being overrun, but I did resist going to my town’s book sale this weekend (but the Mark Twain library sale is next weekend — can I resist that??)

    Emily — interesting that sometimes nothing works, even books that should. I do wonder why that is. I’m guessing Belbin might work for you, or at least I’d like to know what you made of it (when you reach a point where you are “clicking” with fiction once again!). I do think this was a matter of personal taste; I’m okay with other forms of disconnectedness, but this particular manifestation just didn’t appeal.

  6. Too bad you didn’t get along with the book. It sounds like it has such potential. You are doing really well on the challenge. I think I may have veered way off course both in my list and in the not buying new books part. Especially in the not buying books part.

  7. Stefanie — yes, it definitely has potential. I just wasn’t up to the task. Sometimes I think the book is at fault, but not this time.

  8. You’re doing so well with this challenge, how will you reward yourself when you get to the end? It is strange that sometimes something seems like it should work, but doesn’t, but then so many different things go into each reading experience it’s not surprising that sometimes they colide and the mixture flops.

  9. Just saw this. I found this book enormously difficult to read. The language, while often beautiful, was a weird combination of dated Edwardian slang, horse-riding jargon, and compressed details about the progress of the war…. It ended up not working for me. Frankly, it struck me as intended for a very specific audience, more so than most books; in this case, specifically British of a certain age, or at least very well versed in the different language groups represented by the slang, jargon, and war talk….

    I have it on good authority that at least two of her previous books are much more the thing (Dreaming of Dead People and Is Beauty Good, I believe; naturally, they are out of print… but I think used copies can be had for cheap).

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