Last night I ended it. It lasted over a month, and it was the epitome of an on-again-off-again relationship. Once we got going, we’d stop, and then we’d get going again and stop again. I made a renewed effort to salvage this commitment and get finally hot and heavy, but like SITC‘s Jack Berger, I had to say, “I’m sorry. I can’t. Please don’t hate me.” There was just no more incentive for me to go on… I just did not want to finish the book.
The book in question is Ellis Avery’s The Last Nude, a book selection for my art book club. It’s about the painter Tamara de Lempicka’s relationship with her much younger muse Rafaela Fano. On the surface, it should be a dream book for me: a novel about self-discovery, relationships, artists, Paris, 1920s. Between the pages it was full of characters I didn’t like and revolved around a plot I really didn’t care about. Sheltered 17 old Rafaela escapes from the clutcthes of her family to Paris, and enters a world of sex and prostitution and being a mistress to both men and Tamara. Tamara’s paintings of Rafaela set Paris agog, and soon there are tense bidding wars between two powerful men for her work. Who will get the paintings? Who does Tamara love? Will Rafaela’s overtures for her affection pay off? Or my biggest question: who cares?
The novel felt like it was populated with prototypes for Tom and Daisy Buchanan and Lady Brett Ashley: bored and vapid rich people who use other’s to their own advantage and try to think of new ways to spend their money and flaunt their status. It reads like Avery is trying to create a Jazz Age novel. Paris? Check. Lack of communication? Check. Sex? Check. Wild, fancy parties? Check. Like Nick Carraway, I wasn’t at all enthralled with what I saw, and left.
I rarely stop reading a book because I don’t want to read it anymore. Normally, if I put down a book it’s because I’m not in the mood to read about that particular topic, but I do want to finish it at some point. There are only two other novels I can think of that prompted me to call it quits: Crime and Punishment and The Secret Life of Bees. The first novel I just didn’t get. Referring to the nickname glossary every five minutes gets old in a book that is half my body weight. As for Bees, I thought it was contrived. If I want to read about the coming-of-age of a young girl in the South, I can read To Kill A Mockingbird. Which is what I did.
I read Avery’s book for 200 pages (it has 306) before calling it quits. I gave it and myself a chance to make reading magic. But how long do you give a book before calling it quits? What books have you given up on and why? When do you allow yourself to put it aside?