Not a Rat’s Chance in Hell: My Progress Update 1

I have started reading for the “Not a Rat’s Chance in Hell Challenge“. I was waiting to post until I had decided on all the books, but I have already completed several off my incomplete list and, well, it’s starting to get close to the end of the year.

With three of ten down, this is the challenge and how I plan to tackle it. Any suggestions on item 6?

My tentative list:

1. The Name of the Rose – Umberto Eco: A book that has been previously abandoned

2. The Trial – Frank Kafka (I told my friend Pat I would, but have not yet…..better late…): A re-read.

3. Native Son – Richard Wright: A book that has been sitting on the shelf, like, forever.

4. Poetry (particular collection TBA): A book that paralyses one with dread.

5. A Fringe of Leaves – Patrick White: Investigate a canonical writer hitherto most shamefully overlooked.

6. Undetermined: Seek out a book by an author who has earned ostracism by being so good that any further novel could surely never measure up…?

7. Love in the Time of Cholera – Gabriel Garcia Marquez: That author who was supposed to be really good, but didn’t go down too well? Give him/her another go!

8. Skippy Dies – Paul Murray: Take a chance. Read a book which you would rather not.

9. Neuromancer – William Gibson (following the lead of Pechorin’s Journal who knows sci-fi): A book from an unfamiliar genre.

10. The Underpainter – Jane Urquhart: Ask a friend (preferably a person of impeccable taste, and definitely not someone who might have an axe to grind) to choose a book that you will, in their opinion, like.

I plan to update my progress at the end of each month until I finish. (Hopefully, that will be by the end of the year, but, if not, I will continue reading and posting until I do finish.)

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23 Responses to Not a Rat’s Chance in Hell: My Progress Update 1

  1. David Abrams says:

    For #6: Maybe Charles Frazier? His “Cold Mountain” was so good that a lot of pressure was placed on his sophmore novel (“Thirteen Moons”) was expected to fail. And it did. I’ve heard his latest, “Nightwoods,” is pretty good, though.

    • Kerry says:

      I am afraid Charles Frazier fits into category 7 for me. Cold Mountain fell apart at the end, I thought at the time. I remember too little now to say whether my reaction was highly idiosyncratic or whether I would think differently now.

      But, thanks for the suggestion. He probably still would qualify for #6 too, based on reputation (rather than my opinion). I will keep it in mind as an option.

  2. Justine says:

    You will love Eco’s Name of the Rose … In fact, perhaps I should reread it? It took me two attempts to complete it but it was well worth it.

    Fringe of Leaves was one of my set texts for English in my final year of high school and if I use the word “loathe” to describe my feelings toward White’s book you must know that I am definitely not exaggerating! I will be interested to hear your response … Marquez is a legend so you are ensured a good read there!

    • Kerry says:

      Justine,

      Thanks for the encouragment re: The Name of the Rose. I am looking forward both to the actual story/writing and to crossing it off my list. I already know I need to brush up on my Latin to get all the clues, though.

      I will lower my expectations for Fringe of Leaves. If I like it, I will be more pleasantly surprised than otherwise. If I don’t, at least I know there is precedent.

      And, truthfully, Marquez has stuck with me, which makes me think my gripes probably had more to do with me (I do not tend to be a big fan of magical realism, Winterson not withstanding), than with Marquez. I look forward to another.

      Finally, thank you very much for commenting on my choices!

      Kerry

  3. Maybe you should shift Native Son to number 6 (since Wright basically ostracized himself after writing it) and find another one for number 3.

    Another suggestion (since the way that 6 is worded does not imply that the book has to be a debut) would be J.L. Carr’s A Month in the Country. It is truly exquisite — by all accounts the rest of his work is disappointing. To date, I am confirmation of the sentiment of the category since I have resolutely not tried anything else by Carr.

    • Kerry says:

      I like your idea re: Richard Wright. I do have many other books on the shelf, so #3 is an easy category to fill. I may follow your J.L. Carr suggestion, however. Anything you tag as “truly exquisite” is certain to find a receptive audience in me. I’m not sure if reading Carr’s best fits the intent of the category. (I assume it means after reading the knock your socks portion of an author’s oeuvre, try the latest offering. In which case, I was thinking maybe Eugenides…..Could he really top/compete with Middlesex?).

      Thanks for your comments and suggestions! Carr definitely goes on the TBR.

  4. Emma says:

    Hello
    I’m doing this too, there’s a page on my blog if you’re interested. For number 6 I chose Houellebecq.

    • Kerry says:

      I checked out your list. I envy your French, first of all. Second, that is an interesting list. I think you are pushing me towards Houllebecq….if not for my #6, then to finally learn whether I like his writing or not.

      Thanks for commenting and let me know you’re playing along too.

      • Emma says:

        Well, I’m French, so I can’t show off about my skills in French. 🙂

        I’ll follow your progress too.

      • Kerry says:

        Well, your English is impeccable, but I can’t envy that language (though maybe your facility with it).

        : )

        Thanks! I look forward to trading notes with you.

  5. Jen says:

    For #6: How about Franzen? or Ralph Ellison (could he ever top Invisible Man?)?

    Too bad JK Rowling isn’t still publishing. It’s hard to believe she’ll ever measure up to Harry Potter!

    • Kerry says:

      Jen,

      Those are good suggestions, especially as I have read both the “great” works by both Franzen and Ellison. Unfortunately, with Franzen I have already read his follow-up (though I could try pre-Corrections works). As for Ellison, I am not sure whether I want to try his unfinished last (second) novel. I may want to leave his reputation untarnished in my mind.

      I will think about it. Thank you for the suggestions and the comment!

  6. No 6. Hmmm … Are we talking second novels OR a good body of work followed by? Are you supposed to read the good one or the “further” one? Do they have to have written “the further novel”?

    Kazuo Ishiguro is a possibility. After three great novels, his fourth (and the only one of his I haven’t read), The unconsoled, was a disappointment for many. If it met the spirit of 6 and if I were doing the challenge I think it would be my choice.

    Good luck with White.

    • Kerry says:

      Re: White – Thanks, Whispering.

      I think Sarah intended something along your Ishiguro lines, i.e. an author who either has or almost certainly will fall off in quality with his/her most recent novel. To that end, I wish David Mitchell had something coming out in the next few months, because I cannot imagine him living up to his past success. Or, maybe, Cormac McCarthy, or Coetzee. Do any of these writers take requests?

      I like the Ishiguro suggestion. I am in the process of obtaining a copy of Never Let Me Go which will be my first Ishiguro. Then I could try the drop-off novel for the challenge. I will think about it.

      • For me, The Unconsoled would be the excellent novel and Never Let Me Go the drop off one. The interesting thing about Ishiguro is that I know almost as many readers who feel the way whisperingums does as I do those who line up with my sentiments.

      • Oh Kevin, I think you’ve misunderstood me. I haven’t read The unconsoled … but was reporting on what I’ve read around the traps, particularly when The unconsoled came out. I’ve read everything else of his but that one and I’d say Never let me go is the drop off one too. Every time I think of it, I almost forget it’s Ishiguro. It just doesn’t compute!

      • Ha Kerry! I haven’t read enough Mitchell nor McCarthy (just two for each of them) to feel strongly enough about them, but when I was pondering your quandary, Coetzee did come to mind.

  7. Sarah says:

    Great list, Kerry. I am almost shamed into seeing if I have read anything that fits the challenge myself… (I’m rubbish at challenges, especially my own!)

    If I haven’t managed to take in a canonical author already I might jump on your band wagon and borrow Patrick White.

    I am really interested to see how you get on with Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I rather like him… (Which one did you not like so much?)

    For me there was only one choice for no. 6. After Infinite Jest it had to be David Foster Wallace. Did I like it as much? Well, not quite… My fears were kind of justified.

    • Kerry says:

      Sarah,

      Thank you for you comments on my list and thank you for the challenge. This does give me the kick in the butt I needed to read some of these books I otherwise would have shamefully neglected for another several years….

      I would love to compare notes on Patrick White. I am hoping to fall in love, at least a bit, and work my way through his oeuvre.

      I was underwhelmed by One Hundred Years of Solitude, but certain scenes remain vividly in memory (the kids first seeing ice, for instance). The magical part of magical realism can be a turn off for me.

      I understand that about Wallace. He is a good example and Infinite Jest seems such a monument of literary excellence (by reputation for me, but still) that it would seem hard for any subsequent work of his to measure up.

      Thanks again for the challenge. It came when I needed it (even if I am going slowly…)

  8. Edgar says:

    For poetry: Duino Elegies by Rainer Maria Rilke, translated by Stephen Mitchell.
    I love The Name of the Rose. I will add also Foucault’s Pendulum also by Umberto Eco.

  9. I do love Marquez, as I slowly work my way through his backlist, one book a year. Some of his non-fiction, like News of a Kidnapping, or his “accounts” like Chronicle of a Death Foretold might sit better with you?

    I raced through Skippy Dies, back when it was on the Booker longlist a couple of years back (or was it last year… how times flies!). It wasn’t the greatest of reads, but it was quick-paced, and I quite enjoyed it.

    For re-reads, I did both Hotel Du Lac (which I didn’t care much for on the re-read) and Catcher in the Rye (which is always a pleasure). And, for a book that paralyses me with dread, I went for Wolf Hall, which I surprisingly enjoyed.

    I’m yet to do the others, but I am a tad abashed to admit I’ve read very few from your list. Nothing bar Marquez and Murray, and there’s no great pride in the Murray!!

  10. Biblibio says:

    I’m kind of baffled by 6. Do you need to read the later books, or the earlier “masterpieces”? Is the point to read books by authors you’ve already read and are thus nervous to keep experiencing or to seek out new authors? Just curious. The same, actually, for 7 – are these authors you’ve found not to live up to the hype, or ones you’ve heard of and don’t believe could ever be as good as people claim?

    I think if I participated in this challenge, I’d have the most leeway with #5… “Canonical writer” is such a broad term that can encompass so much… and legitimately so! Meanwhile, #8… gah. That one seems a bit… gah.

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