Mind the gap!

Does this happen to you? I finish a novel feeling satisfied. If the novel is good I can enjoy the feeling of a resolution or conclusion. But if I haven’t really enjoyed it then I am pleased to have got to the end. And then I frequently find myself reluctant to start a new book, even one I want to read or must read or that has been in my tbr pile for months. I don’t want to loose the sensation of being in the mode of reader of the previous book. Does that happen to you?

86 Mind the Gap

I have four strategies for dealing with this.

Strategy #1 Short stories

Short stories often work because they pull me in quickly so that my reluctance is swiftly overcome. At the moment I have two volumes that are working in this way for me:

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Dear Life by Alice Munro – the queen of short stories.

Grimm Tales for Old and Young by Philip Pullman. These are short, often familiar and quickly pull you into the tale. ‘There was once a fisherman who …’ ‘A beautiful young girl was imprisoned in a tower …’ that kind of thing.


Strategy #2 Novellas

I pick up one of Peirene Press’s novellas and know that I will soon move into some very sharp experiences. The quality of the writing is guaranteed, for the Press specialises in translated novellas by European writers of note. Excellent translations too.

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My most recent that I read was Portrait of the Mother as a Young Woman by Friedrich Christian Delius (translated from the German by Jamie Bulloch).

A pregnant young German woman, (we never know her name) walks through Rome in January 1943. Her journey takes two hours, 114 pages and only one sentence. Everywhere there are signs of war going badly: shortages, threat of bombs, and the presence of the German army. Her husband has been sent to the North African front. She becomes aware of the monstrousness of the world in which she lives: people are forced into separation from those they love, people are in mortal danger, and living with extreme privation, and her Lutheran beliefs are tested by Catholicism and anti-Semitic ideologies.

And currently in my bag for company on journeys is another novella from Peirene Press, this one French and starting with a bus journey and an atmosphere of dread: Beside the Sea by Veronique Olmi (translated by Adriana Hunter). Those of us who live in Devon, beyond Dawlish, must be prepared for many long bus and train journeys while they repair the seawall and track, and so journeys, like the reading gaps, need good books.

Strategy #3 Literary Reviews

I subscribe to two journals, both of which alert me to books I do and don’t want to read: London Review of Books and Literary Review. I also always have several back copies of the Guardian Saturday Review waiting to be combed through. After reading a few recommendations I am usually ready to start on my next book.

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Strategy #4 Start a new book anyway!

Sometimes the necessity of getting through a book – for the reading group, for a review, for a library due date – means I must just dive in. Usually that works too.


Do you have the gap sensation? What do you do? Any more suggestions?


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Filed under Books, Reading

7 Responses to Mind the gap!

  1. Hi Caroline,
    Yes, I have experienced mixed feeling when finishing a book (not always a novel): disappointment that I’ve finished, satisfaction that I have finished and eagerness to move onto the next. However I also experience the reluctance to move on to another when the reading has been unsatisfactory. Sometimes, though, if I am not enjoying a book enough I will not persist with the reading. I know there are enough other wonders out there for me to enjoy and not enough time to waste on those I don’t.
    Thank you for sharing your strategies. I think they are all excellent!

  2. Interesting question, Caroline.
    I do like a gap between novels, but it’s quite short – just need a good night sleep between the last one in the next one. Like you, I fill the gap with short stories and the Guardian review. This also works for me on short train journeys. I think of novellas as like novels, so they have to wait till I have slept. I’ll be interested in your views on Beside the Sea – I found it an excellent read and really moving.
    Then there’s Norah’s question about giving up on books – another dilemma!

    • Caroline

      I had only begun Beside the Sea when I drafted the Mind the Gap post. The dread at the outset was fully realised and I found myself both shocked and subdued by the final events of the novella. Beautifully observed relationships of a mother and two small boys, and the brothers’ relationship was also authentically presented. A recommendation.
      Interesting that you need to sleep.

  3. Gwyneth Page

    I do agree that sometimes it’s really hard to start on the next book and for all sorts of reasons. My strategies include reading reviews or short stories and I find non-fiction works quite well too. And sometimes I make an effort to do some housework or ironing and listen to the radio, but really I’d rather read!

    • Caroline

      Hi Gwyneth, I missed out non-fiction as a strategy. Thanks for reminding me. And poems sometimes! I have Seamus Heaney’s translation of Beowulf at my bedside at the moment.

  4. Marianne

    I find it really hard to move on from a novel that I have loved. I think there is a minor grieving process at the loss. I agree about the short stories, but find I have to pause to think about each one, otherwise I move too quickly from one to another rather like gorging on chocolates. I have to stop to digest a little. I have just read a fantastic book of 34 stories by Edith Pearlman, the title is ‘Binocular Vision’. Right up there with Alice Monro.

    • Caroline

      Looking forward to hearing what you think of Binocular Vision as I have got a copy waiting to be read! I was thinking of it being on the olderwomen in fiction Readalong in June. What do you think?

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