One of the World’s Worst Novels, Revisited

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Byron the Quokka bet me some gummy bears against a pound of eucalyptus leaves that I couldn’t re-read St. Brigid’s Bones without the rest of my hair falling out and my toes getting fused together. I didn’t dare take him up on it.

Every now and then you run into a novel that’s unforgettably bad, truly awesome in its awfulness: you can scarce believe it’s the work of human beings. St. Brigid’s Bones, by Philip Freeman, is worse than that.

You’d think it’d be fascinating to visit Ireland a few years after St. Patrick died, and watch the early days of an Irish Church that would go on to evangelize all Northern Europe. But being bombarded with cliches for a couple hundred pages will beat that out of you.

The street-smart nun (and they don’t even have streets!). The stern old abbess whose best friend is the local druid. They hang out and gossip together. The evil villain abbot who gets the tar waled out of him by the street-smart nun. A mystery that turns into just another shaggy dog story. This book has everything but athlete’s foot.

It leaves me wondering not only how books like this get published, but how they even get written in the first place. It can’t be that the author is so out of touch with contemporary culture that he simply can’t recognize a soap opera or an action movie cliche when he sees one. If he were that far out, he never would’ve learned to write at all. The author of this monstrosity is a respected academic. Which tells us something about our ability to assess the worth of any academic.

How do books this bad get written? I mean, I’ve read so many of them! Where do they come from?

I open the floor for discussion.

7 comments on “One of the World’s Worst Novels, Revisited

  1. I don’t know. I read very few novels or any kind of fiction these days. Even among Christian writers, there are some pretty sorry efforts, but if you hear the fiction being offered as news, it is not surprising.

  2. You’ve given me a chance to sound off about a particular kind of novel that makes me want to write poison pen letters to the publishing house editors — the once-Catholic or still-Catholic heroine presented by an author who seems to have no clue as to what Catholics believe or what the rituals are. In one novel, the heroine, as she prepares to rush off to a crisis and wants to send up a prayer, “made a quick novena.” Um, no. A novena, by definition, is a set of prayers said over a period of nine days. It can’t get any quicker than that. In another novel — in fact, in a few that I’ve read, including one by an author that I usually respect — the narrator describes someone praying the rosary as “the steady [or rapid] clicking of rosary beads.” Um, no. Rosary beads don’t click. They don’t slide around on strings like an abacus or worry beads. The beads are fixed in place and make no sound as the fingers move from one to the next. Furthermore, it takes a while to move from one bead to the next, because the beads are markers to keep track of which prayer you’re saying at the moment, and the prayers are fairly long — the Our Father, the Hail Mary, and the Glory Be.

    These things annoy me to the point of screaming — much like the anachronisms in historical novels. And don’t get me started on the fictional nuns and priests who don’t seem to have any religion in particular. Oh, wait, that’s how you did get me started, isn’t it? — i.e., the street-smart nun. Sorry. (blush)

    1. I honestly can’t decide which is more exasperating–the street-smart nun, or the invincible female warrior with jumpin’, spinnin’ kicks. I mean, come on! Fantasy is supposed to be creative! That character in “Bones” was a lot of both, which made her doubly unbearable.

      Although half my family is Catholic, and I put in some pleasant time teaching at a Catholic school, I would never venture to bandy about Catholic beliefs and rituals on account of my massive ignorance of same. But if I did have to write about it, I would certainly do the freakin’ research first!

      But when ignorant writers get edited by equally ignorant editors and published by yet more ignorant publishers… well, you see what happens.

  3. I won’t include Bell Mountain in the “not to read” list. They are worth the read.

  4. I think that is true for a lot of publications. Many people are backing off from a lot of things, even though they enjoy them, or did before all the screwy upset.

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