James Frey – A Million Little Pieces

The whole point of joining a bookclub is – for me at least – to push me outside my comfort zone and into reading more broadly. In my case, this means reading more mainstream best sellers about mundane things in the real world. Reading for me is education or escapism; and this is the crux of my difficulty with James Frey’s A Million Little Pieces.

AMTP claims to be the memoir of Frey’s struggle back from the edge of addiction. This is immediately one of my turn-off topics (the other is the Mob), so this was always going to be a challenging read for me.

Unfortunately, this 500+ page opus is – depending on where you stand – a relentlessly gruelling and honest recounting of the horrors of addiction, or a self-indulgent, repetitive, nasty and dull monologue about vomiting, hallucinating and wondering whether suicide is the better option.

There’s nothing to like here: the book starts with Frey semi-conscious and amnesiac after a drug-induced accident. He spits, swears and sulks from the start; there’s no redeeming features, so you read out of curiosity rather than care (of out of a sense of duty, in my case).

None of the supporting characters are any more appealing; by the time I gave up, 200+ pages in, they remained thinly drawn and disinteresting, perhaps in part because the narrator is holding himself aloof. Regardless, they provide no additional hook to engage the reader’s sympathy or curiosity.

If very little happening to a dislikable man weren’t enough, Frey chooses to capitalise random Nouns and eschews use of standard punctuation (especially for speech). The resulting Hodge Podge of inconsistent capitals and no syntactical crutches makes for a subpar stream of consciousness that hurt to read. The Evening Standard’s assertion on the cover that “this is brilliantly written, and if you disagree you can fuck off” was frankly red rag to my enraged bull.

This may (or may not – see Google for debate on whether this novel is as autobiographical as it claims) be a searingly honest account of one man’s struggle back from the brink. If so, good for him. I hope he’s fully recovered and making up to friends and family for being an arsehole. It may be an accurate portrayal of the horror of recovery. But – coming back to my opening gambit if I may – it’s not escapist or entertaining, and (as I’m not an addict, and don’t plan to become one) it’s not educational.

There was a tiny chance in a million that I’d find this interesting, touching, even inspiring. Instead, I’m quitting halfway through, because I’m so utterly bored and resentful.

I’ll take it on the chin; everyone else hated the first bookclub read, which was one of my picks. But it has killed off my intention to try and reread We Need To Talk About Kevin, previously my most-hated book I’d ever forced myself to complete. I can’t force the rest of A Million Little Pieces down, so I guess that makes it the new title holder. I’m not doing two reads this unenjoyable this year – reading can’t contribute to my stress or blood pressure!