The basics: Set in 1970's West Virginia, Lord of Misrule offers a glimpse at the life at a rundown horse race track.
My thoughts: I started this book many, many times since November 2010. First when it was named a finalist for the National Book Award. Again when it won the National Book Award. Again when it was longlisted for the Orange Prize. Despite not really wanting to read it because of its content, I was determined to finally finish this slim book, and I did. But I was right: I didn't like it.
Usually, when I'm underwhelmed or ambivalent about an award-winning novel, I can see its moments of merit, but I struggle to understand how this managed to win the National Book Award. I went in with very low expectations of enjoyment, but I did expect to be wowed by its construction, or its language, or its setting. Instead, I found myself reading an oddly detailed and stylized account of 1970's horse racing whose plot is given away in the explanatory note before the novel even begins (admittedly, I would not have understood the story without this explanatory note, but it made it quite obvious some character would foolishly attempt to run horses that are too good in claiming races.)
The verdict: In the end, there is only one nice thing to say about Lord of Misrule: the character of Maggie was intriguing, albeit only about half of the time. I wish there would have been more of her. Or more plot. Or more beautiful, descriptive language, or more intelligent characters, or more intelligent commentary on unintelligent characters. Clearly, there is an audience who will appreciate the novel in ways I didn't. For all its faults, I can finally say I read it.
Rating: 2 out of 5
Length: 297 pages
Publication date: November 10, 2010
Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy Lord of Misrule from Amazon (Kindle edition.)
Want more? Read Jane Smiley's review of Lord of Misrule. She doesn't love it either, but she does articulate some of its virtues and make a case for its writing.
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