x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

A good book is hard to find

If a book doesn't grab hold by the second chapter, move along.

Patience is a virtue I wish I possessed to a greater degree. My lack of it mostly relates to reading books: I crave instant gratification from whatever is under my nose. If I'm not hooked by the second chapter I'm likely to toss the tome aside without a twinge of guilt.

This weekend was a case in point and despite my best efforts, Stephen Fry's Moab Is My Washpot found its way to the top of a small but dusty pile of books I'll probably never open again. The autobiography covering the first 20 years of Fry's life was bought for me by my brother a cringe-worthy six years ago. (Impatient yes, fast reader, no.)

Somewhere along the line, it became sandwiched at the back of my bookshelf between Le Petit Robert dictionary and a well-thumbed copy of James Joyce's Dubliners, but a chance spring-clean recently reacquainted us after all these years.

Considering Fry to be something of a modern-day Oscar Wilde and having loved listening and watching him for years, I felt sure I would tear through his memoirs at a terrific pace. Yet, as I found my eyes twitching and speeding through lines describing endless train journeys and crashingly boring school field trips in painful minutiae, impatiently looking for the laughs, I knew the game was up.

What's a girl to do? When you're gripped you're gripped and there's nothing more satisfying than racing through a book at warp speed. All narcissism aside, Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca delivered that delight nearly 15 years ago: any books by Khaled Hosseini and Martin Amis have had a similar effect in recent years. But, sadly, the same could not be said for the walk I took in concrete boots through Bill Bryson's A Short History of Nearly Everything back in 2003. While I discovered a fantastic cure for insomnia, I'll never regain portions of those precious two months of my life.

So with Fry well and truly fried, I have now cracked the spine of Alan Hollinghurst's latest novel, The Stranger's Child. Having devoured his previous book I feel a little more hopeful this one will go the distance. Only time will tell and I've come to know the warning signs well. Although I, unforgivably, always read first the last few sentences of any new book - I know I'm in trouble if my concentration wanders and I flip to the back of the book and read the entire last chapter. Fingers crossed, I'll be ploughing through the pages this month and won't remember the last line when I get to read it, legitimately, for a second time.