Middle-of-the-book-itis: a reader’s conundrum

What is middle-of-the-book-itis, you ask? Have you ever read a book, been completely blown away by the start of the book, and so intrigued by the general premise that you absolutely have to finish the book and find out how it all ends, except there’s one slight setback – you’re in the middle of the book, and it kind of sucks? If so, you’ve suffered from middle-of-the-book-itis, a symptom of books with brilliant beginnings and endings but middle parts that just kind of drag on.

It’s happened to me a number of times, and it’s really irritating. If the beginning of a book is bad, you tend not to keep reading (well, I don’t, but I’m not as patient as some, I will admit, and I have always thought if a writer can’t be bothered to make the opening of their book good, why should I bother to read the rest of it? But I digress…as usual). If the ending of a book is rubbish, it might be disappointing, but it might just highlight that the rest of the book was good, and you unfortunately raised your expectations as a result. But if the middle of the book is boring, but the beginning was good, you’re left with that uneasy decision to make: force yourself onwards, hoping against hope that the ending will be worth it, or throw in the towel, to be haunted forever more by the limitless possibilities contained within those unread pages.

One such novel which comes to mind that caused me to suffer from this condition was Love In The Time Of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez. This four hundred page book follows the lives of Florentino Ariza and Fermina Daza, who fall in love in their youth, but who are forced to separate by Fermina’s father. Florentino heads off on his own adventures and waits over fifty years for Fermina’s husband, the doctor Juvenal Urbino, to pass away, upon which he returns and declares his love for Fermina in a seemingly futile attempt to win her back in their old age. This theme of the different kinds of love threads through the whole novel, but while the beginning is fascinating, and the last quarter of the book is a fantastic conclusion, the middle two hundred odd pages of the story seems almost unnecessary and tedious. The saving grace in the case of this book is that the writing is so utterly beautiful, you tend to forgive other flaws in the novel.

Have you ever suffered from middle-of-the-book-itis? What books did you find have this problem?

50 thoughts on “Middle-of-the-book-itis: a reader’s conundrum

  1. “I have always thought if a writer can’t be bothered to make the opening of their book good, why should I bother to read the rest of it?”
    LOL Once upon a time I never abandoned a book – I seem to have become more ruthless in my old age (OK, my 40s), because now I have no qualms whatsoever about dumping a book if it’s boring the pants off me. I think I’ve developed a strong regard for my own tastes and also for my own intuition as a writer – I KNOW now when a book I’m reading just isn’t ringing the bells and I’ve learned to do the unthinkable and just stop reading at that point, because life is just too short to plod through books out of a misplaced sense of obligation! I read ‘Inkheart’ by Cornelia Funke (yeah, I know, an adult reading kids’ books – hey, a good book is a good book!), and was blown away by its sweetness and depth and just damn all-round wonderfulness. Was VERY happy to find she’d written two more (Inkspell and Inkdeath) – then spent ages churning my way through them (especially Inkdeath) feeling that nagging sense of disappointment and randomised reader-guilt that I wasn’t enjoying them as much as ‘Inkheart’. It wasn’t that they didn’t have some great stuff in them – they did – and it wasn’t that the writing per se had gone downhill – it hadn’t – but they just didn’t engage my heart like the first one. I finished them, because they were a finite series and I hate not finishing a series – but I haven’t re-read the second and third books, whereas I have re-read ‘Inkheart’ and will probably do so again.
    The situation where your heart sinks a bit is when someone you know and respect presses a book on you that they’ve loved – and you try and try, but you just cannot see what they see in it! ‘Captain Corelli’s Mandolin’ was a case in point for me. A friend rhapsodised about it, described a comedic situation in the book as the funniest thing he’d ever read, so I went out and bought it. It was OK. It had its points. I learned things about wartime Greece that I never knew before. But seriously, if that was the funniest thing he’d ever read, he needed to get out more. Or read different books, probably ones that weren’t on some critic’s whoopee list.

    • Ahhh yes, I have had that problem too, where I’ve loved the first part of a series of books, and then struggled with the later books (actually, the one which springs to mind, I struggled with the middle book of the trilogy, but became more engaged by the third book again. How odd). I have always wondered about that Inkheart book, though I didn’t realise there were two more books as well. I will have to give that one a go some time.
      I do know what you mean though, and that is how I feel – I get a vague feeling of whether or not I am going to enjoy the book from quite early on, and I find most of the time that intuition is fairly spot on (though I have been pleasantly surprised from time to time, too).
      I also know what you mean about trying to enjoy a book somebody else has given you or wanted you to love. I have several friends who keep insisting I’ll love Lolita, and one friend let me borrow it a long time ago, and I am still not even halfway through it – I just don’t like it, as the writing seems boring, and the story downright creepy and just…urgh.
      Funnily enough, I love Captain Corelli’s Mandolin as well! 😛 But I know it’s not for everyone – I have convinced a few friends to read it, and some have loved it like I have but others have been a bit “meh” about it. It was funny, but it was more of a light-hearted funny, not a “laugh until you’re crying” kind of funny. I’ve certainly read many many funnier books. And I don’t think that’s the best book that Louis de Bernieres wrote, either.
      Glad to see you understand where I was coming from with this blog post! 😀

    • Ahhh okay, the climax I always leave until the end. I want to build up to the climax in my writing in much the way I want my readers to build up to it in their reading. I often picture it in my head, but usually when I sit down and write it, I have all the weight of the rest of the story bearing down on me, and I usually find writing that big climax is the most intense part of the writing, but it normally happens in one session.
      But as with all things, different things work for different people, both as readers and writers! 🙂

      • True…then again, I am published so maybe this is why 🙂

        I have been using all my energy the last 1½ years to try and write a book instead of short stories and poems and it was the climax that would keep me up at night or wake me up in the middle of the night. I will admit that because the climax is as powerful and moving as it is from the reaction from a few that have read it, I am having trouble living up to the climax from where the story starts to where I think it would end.

        I thought of starting the book with the climax but I assume noone will finish if it ever made out…

    • Hahaha, I was thinking, “how would being published make that the case?” 😛
      Nah, definitely don’t start with the climax. Well, I mean, you could I guess, if you were bold and daring and willing to just throw convention completely out of the window, but it would be hard to do it justice – like you say, hard to keep the reader’s interest. Some authors play around with it though. For example, in my favourite ever novel, Catch 22, the climax is in the second last chapter, and revolves around the death of a character. But you know this character dies almost at the start of the book, because the book flickers back and forth over the space of a couple of years. The reason it becomes the climax is because you know it had an immense effect on the main character, and the author slowly reveals details of it through the book, but only at the very end shows the scene in full, and when it does it is a huge climax, and the effect is emotionally devastating (as in, I actually cried a little, it threw me that much). I think that worked because the writer kind of disarms you in that book by revealing parts of it earlier.
      Anyway, try not to let it pressure you too much. It will come, and you’ll find a way to thread it all together, I am sure! It just takes time and patience (and lots of coffee). Good luck with it! 🙂

  2. That happened with Dracula, The Stand and one book I can’t remember the name of right now. I finished the one I can’t remember the name of and remember being so annoyed at it. I think I actually blocked it out of my memory.

    I’m honestly trying to work myself up to finishing Dracula and the Stand only because everyone’s crazy about them for some reason. The other Stephen King fan I know is always so shocked when I say I haven’t finished it…yet. Bah.

    On a side note (since it came up): I always write my stories in order, exactly as it happens. Well, minus one series. I keep writing small to large scenes from three different books instead of following any logical timeline. One day certain characters won’t be born yet and the next they’ll be old enough to be having an argument with other characters. It’s confusing and it’s the entire reason I try to write logically. Writing logically isn’t working with this series though for some reason. I’ll copy and paste it all together eventually.

    Also, I’ve sometimes read the last few pages in a novel. I did it with Mockingjay because I really wanted to know what happened. It makes me finish the novel faster.

    • Ahh yes, Dracula is pretty boring. I have finished it but I wasn’t a huge fan, it just dragged on. I can see why it’s important and influential and blah blah blah, but I just didn’t enjoy as much as I thought I would. And I likewise am yet to finish The Stand – I am going back to some shorter King stories and will work my way up to The Stand slowly again I think.
      Interesting to hear how you write – I think writing logically is probably a much wiser way of writing, certainly easier when it comes to the editing stage, and to putting it all together.
      I was tempted to do that with Mockingjay because I had made guesses on how it would end, but I didn’t want to ruin it (also there was a slight fear my predictions were wrong, but most of them were spot on). I actually find when I get to the end of a lot of novels that if I had have read the last few pages, it would have made no sense anyway.

      • I never thought Dracula would be that boring, to be honest. I want to finish it, I really do (mainly because I have the sequel) but I get about half way though and I just die.
        Usually I don’t have the story fully planned either so writing logically helps me make things up on the way…haha. Oddly I DID plan out last years NaNo in full. Then I strayed from the path even though it kind of ended how I wanted it to. I’m just odd.
        Even if I know how something ends it doesn’t ruin it for me. I like to see how it got there and why it got there. So even though I know how Harry Potter ends and who dies, it won’t ruin it for me when I do finally read it.

        • Yeah, Dracula is definitely a book I finished out of a sense of duty more than anything. Wasn’t too keen on the film adaptation of it either.
          I do that a lot – if I plan, I wander off on a tangent anyway. Last year’s NaNo…geeze…that was crazy. No planning whatsoever, though I knew halfway through how I wanted it to end, but didn’t have a clue how I was going to get there. Was good fun 😛
          Yeah, I guess when I have known how a book ends before I finished it, it hasn’t really bothered me that much. It really is about the journey more than the destination with reading, I suppose (hence why middle-of-the-book-itis irritates me so much…).

  3. I started with ‘Love In The Time of Cholera’ because I had heard a lot of gre at reviews. But, like you said, even though the beginning was able to capture my interest, it got really tedious towards the middle. And it happened to be a time when I had some more promising books at hand…and in your words, I chose to ‘throw in the towel’. 🙂 Luckily, I haven’t been haunted by the possibility of having missed a wonderful ending, except when I see the book or (like now) read about it. And in the case of the Twilight series, I enjoyed the first part tremendously but didn’t feel the same about the other 3 books. 🙂 Probably got too tired of the Bella-Edward-Jacob thing!!

    • It seems to be a common complaint with Love In The Time Of Cholera. Apparently his other books are not like that, so I will need to explore that writer more because I did love his writing style, just so eloquent and beautiful. The ending of that book was quite good, but you have to really want to get to the end of it to warrant pushing through the middle part. Glad to hear from somebody who agrees with me on that book though haha! 😛
      It is so hard for a series of books to stay interesting. One of my favourite new (ish) authors, Patrick Rothfuss, has released his first two books as the first two parts of a trilogy and they are both incredibly good, both 5 star books so far as I’m concerned. So of course now there is this immense expectation riding on the final book, but I must admit I actually think he is talented enough to pull it off and make the trilogy brilliant the whole way through! Fingers crossed, because it’s a rare thing to achieve, it seems! 🙂

        • He’s pretty awesome! If you like fantasy you might like him, he’s quite a different fantasy writer though, but in a good way. His first book is called The Name of the Wind, and his second book The Wise Man’s Fear. Also, he has an awesome beard (which I am quite jealous of, because at the ripe old age of nearly 26 my beard is still pretty rubbish). 😛

          • Gabriel Garcia Marquez books aren’t something someone just “picks up” and reads and if someone recommends him then they should also maybe explain a little about timing and magic realism.
            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magic_realism

            I read all his novels 20 years ago when Magic Realism was on the universities reading list along with Isabel Allende. Knowing about the style and the time it was written in South American history helps makes Love in the time of Cholera easier to digest.

            • Ahh, interesting to know. I think that style of writing has fallen off university reading lists (well, the university I went to at least – I imagine it’s different around the world though), but it is something I am curious about, and I have read one or two other books which contain magic realism. And the fact that you read all his novels definitely suggests he is worth investing the time in reading (something I was probably going to do anyway)! 🙂

              • 🙂 —His works aren’t movie entertainment they are written in a totally different style from a different time. It is a bit a shame today that movies are robbing the imagination of many people today. I know Harry Potter would not have made that much money if you had to prove you read the book to see the film.

  4. By the way, I forgot to mention. I LOVED Dracula. I know it gets a little dragging at times…but I loved it. I read it a long time ago…but remember being so fascinated by it! It’s always been one of my all-time favs. And I find Stephen King kinda boring. No offence meant to Stephen King fans, but somehow, I haven’t been able to complete any book of his and find it hard to maintain my focus and interest in them.

    • Ahhh interesting! I just can’t get into Dracula – I love gothic literature but that one just didn’t do it for me. But as I said, I can see why people do get into it, I think it’s just a particular taste, I suppose.
      I think Stephen King is an acquired taste too. He sounds like a great storyteller though many have said he isn’t the best writer (but at the speed he writes this doesn’t surprise me). I think I will enjoy some of his books, but I don’t think I’d ever be the sort of fan to go and read everything he has written. But I want to read through a few, at least. 🙂

  5. Try and try as I might I just cannot finish reading DeBernieres’ Birds Without Wings. I’ve read pretty much everything else he’s written numerous times and adored it. Must try it again sometime. Love in the time of cholera is my all time favourite Gabriel Garcia Marquez book- I’m just a sucker for unrequited and undying love.

    • Ahhh really? I will admit, the first half of Birds Without Wings is a bit long, but the second half of the book is amazing. I think I read the last 250-300 pages in a single sitting, I just suddenly couldn’t put it down, and at the end I was completely blown away. It is actually my favourite book by de Bernieres! Though I have loved almost everything he has written (the sole exception being A Partisan’s Daughter, which I didn’t mind but it didn’t amaze me). 🙂

  6. There have been a few books where I just couldn’t slog my way through them – and they are so unremarkable, I can’t even recall their titles, at the moment. A friend of mine never reads the first few pages of a book to decide whether or not to buy it. She turns to page 42 and reads THAT page. If it grabs her attention, if she likes the way the authorwrote it and if she finds compelled to learn more about what came before and after the segment, she will buy the book. This is probably a good way to judge a story. That way you don’t have to worry about whether the middle drags because you’ve already read part of it! 🙂

    • Oooh, that is a really interesting way of judging a book before reading it, by reading a page from the middle section. I would never have thought of that but perhaps your friend is on to something there! 🙂

  7. Strangely enough, I couldn’t finish One Hundred Years Of Solitude. We were studying Latin American literature, and this was recommended reading. Five pages in, I wanted to hug my teacher. Marquez was unlike anything I had ever read before. But it was slow reading, which I didn’t really mind, because I loved how he wrote. It got to be a problem, I think, when I started talking to my teacher about it and she told me about the whole magic realism thing, and gave me articles explaining it. I was so engrossed, that..I..never finished the book. Uh oh.

    • Hahaha, that is the funniest reason ever for not finishing a book! I plan on reading that one soon myself, I must admit. I might look more into magic realism first, though I have a lot more of an idea about than I used to. Marquez does have a way with words though, doesn’t he? 🙂

      • He most certainly does. Although, I recently finished a Llosa and I must say, he’s got weaving sentences down to a fine art. Beautiful. I kept scribbling quotes down as I read it. I think I prefer him to Marquez. But I really should read more of their works before I say something like that.

        Yeah, my teacher laughed her head off when I told her about that. She has vowed to give me extra reading material only after I finish the books now. 😛

        • Ahhh interesting, haven’t read anything by him. I may have to look into him as well. I definitely want to read more Marquez, as he influenced a lot of other writers I enjoy as well, so that has kind of pulled me in more, I think.
          I find some books you need extra reading material to get to grips with the story. For example, when at university I chose (silly me) to write an essay on Joseph Conrad’s Heart Of Darkness. It’s only a little over a hundred pages, but I had to read it three times and read about 20 academic articles on it, before I felt prepared enough to write only a 1000 word essay on the book (I did quite well marks-wise, if I remember correctly). It’s a good book, but it’s jam-packed with thoughts and ideas that you can just pick apart. But one of the few books I am glad I read more academically than for pleasure 😛

  8. I’ve had that problem, most recently with José Saramago’s “Blindness”, I started it a couple of years ago and found the writing style intriguing; no use of names and I believe punctuation wasn’t nonexistent, but I could be wrong. Around the middle of the book though it all got to be too much and I tossed it aside, quite literally, to the end of the sofa where I let it sit for days before putting it back on the shelf. I still haven’t brought myself to finish yet, perhaps one day.

    • Haha yeah, I have one or two books like that, that I stopped halfway through and have left them for a couple of years now. The problem is, if I were to finish them, I would probably need to start from the beginning again anyway, which seems to put me off even more. One day though…

  9. I’ve read a few that are repetitive in the middle like the relationship is on then off then on then off again and I get a bit annoyed. I guess writers focus so much on the opening and the ending they can get a bit lost in the middle.

    • Ahhh yeah, I hate when books do that, become repetitive. If there’s a point to it, fair enough, but there very rarely is a point. I think you might be right actually, about writers becoming lost in the middle – I have found sometimes I become the same in the middle of my own stories (although sometimes I find I have been too ambitious and am trying to cram too much story into too small a space…it’s a tricky balance).

  10. Pingback: In the beginning…(of a story) | wantoncreation

  11. I am currently reading a book which I have found to have a less than dazzling opening. I found it a real chore to keep going with it. BUT! I persevered and made it to the middle where it actually got really good and I thought something exciting was going to happen. But my hope has been in vain and I am back to dragging myself through the book again, waiting for that one exciting thing promised what seems like 1000 pages ago, to actually happen. But I am a glutton for punishment so I’ll keep going.

    • Argh, that sounds infuriating that book! What book is it, if you don’t mind me asking? It sucks when that happens too, because you have your hopes up that the exciting thing that might happen will be worth it, when you don’t even know for certain it will happen, but by that point it’s like you’ve come too far to turn back. I hope whatever book it is that it improves! 🙂

      • It’s called The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver. I finally got to the exciting thing that was meant to happen and it was actually really sad and I wish it hadn’t happened. And you are right – I have gone too far to turn back. It’s like when you’re halfway to the train station and realised you left something at home, but if you go back you’ll miss your train. I can’t not read the rest of this book now in case it has a great ending. Thankfully it is getting better again, but I’m not holding my breath!

        • OHHH a friend of mine has been reading that recently, and has been making very similar comments about it to those you’re making! Hmm, I think I might leave that book for much later in life then, hahahah. I hope it does have a great ending at least :/

  12. Oh my goodness. I felt the exact same way while reading this book! With child-like faith in Marquez’s talent, I gave this book the honour of being my flight companion. I sped through the beginning in the first hour and I felt like a cornered rat after that, especially since I was in the window seat. Sigh. Bad memories…

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