DNF = Did Not Finish
The Swarm by Frank Schätzing is the second read off my To Be Read 2018 Roof Beam Reader Challenge (#TBR2018RBR). The first was Smilla’s Sense of Snow by Peter Høeg, which I enjoyed.
Schätzing’s 2004 bestseller had been patiently waiting on my shelves since 2011 and I knew I had to read it this year or let it go, which I didn’t want to do, so I put it on my priority reading list.
I had decided to read it, or at least to start reading it, for Dewey’s 24 Hour Readathon last month.
The book is a monster — 878 pages. Elsewhere I’ve said it was 881 pages, but there were a few preview pages of the author’s next novel at the end of the book and the story starts on page 3.
I enjoyed the first 200 pages. The writing isn’t the best — it’s repetitive, the characters are a bit wooden (think The Da Vinci Code), and the dialogue is downright groan-worthy at times — yet the story was initially interesting and the marine and technology related parts were fascinating.
Strange worms are discovered on the ocean floor where an energy company wants to drill to extract methane. Whales start attacking boats. A lobster explodes in a chef’s face. Crabs invade New York. It all revolves around a weird substance found inside sea creatures. I won’t say more (mainly because I don’t know much more).
After about 250 pages, my enthusiasm began to wane. There were still some bits that were interesting and exciting, but I was losing my patience with it. The repetition, poor dialogue, a foot-dragging pace, and a plethora of characters that I didn’t really care about all added up to a frustrating reading experience.
Get on with it already! I said out loud at one point. My dogs both looked at me, concerned. They’re used to me reading aloud at times, but unused to outbursts of frustration. They sensed my need for a break and requested a romp in the backyard.
Anyway, on Monday I created daily reading goals to help me get through the book by the end of the week. I was on page 300-and-something when I sketched out my plan. I turned back to the book with refreshed enthusiasm. However, within 10 pages I hit another wall at which point I decided to start skimming.
Before going to bed I did a heavy skim for about 200 pages. That got me to page 503. Yesterday morning, after reading a page, I couldn’t even muster up a heavy skim. I managed the lightest of skims for 100 pages and then threw in the towel and flipped to the last chapter. This gave some answers (who dies) and raised some questions (to say what would be a spoiler) but none tempting enough for me to go back in for more reading.
I was left wondering if the English translation killed this book. Apologies to the translator, Sally-Ann Spencer, I realize this is insulting. I looked her up and found out she actually won a prize for her translation of this novel (the Schlegel-Tieck Prize).
More head-scratching on my part. The Swarm was a huge bestseller in Germany. And Europe. Was it a case where a whole bunch of people bought the book because of the buzz and then didn’t read it? It would be interesting to talk with someone who has read and enjoyed the novel.
So, goodbye, for now, Frank Schätzing. I like big books, but there’s got to be something to keep me going and all aspects of this novel just shriveled up and died for me. (Ouch! Talk about insulting, but there it is.)
As we all know, not all books work for every reader. I’m glad I wrestled with this one though. I feel like I was introduced to some interesting things and will go back through and look at bits that I underlined and want to learn more about. I know I will think about The Swarm for a long time to come.
Title: The Swarm
Author: Frank Schätzing
Publication info: Originally published in German as Der Schwarm by Verlag Kiepenheuer & Witsch, 2004.
Edition read: HarperCollins paperback, 2007.
Translator: Sally-Ann Spencer
Source: Bought it
Bottom line: If you like five-pound techno-thrillers revolving around the ocean and marine life you might want to check this one out, but take heed, matey.
P.S. I haven’t read many techno-thrillers. The only ones that come to mind are Tom Clancy’s. If there’s a techno-thriller that you LOVE, please leave a note in the comments. Thanks!
A book would have to be outstandingly brilliant in every dimension to make me want to read 800 pages.
For sure! I feel like I lost a whole week with this one. At least it’s no longer staring at me from the shelf.
I think the only author I would dare right now with that amount of pages is Haruki Murakami. Glad the dogs helped!
The only thing I’ve read by him so far is What I Talk About When I Talk About Running.
Sad it didn’t work out, but I did look at your cover image for WAY too long thinking that it was a gif and the swarm was pulsating. Is it? Or are my eyes messing with me?
I think your eyes are messing with you! Might be time for a screen break. 😉