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Books written in the present tense

(35 Posts)
TheGirlOnTheLanding Sat 01-Feb-14 08:33:13

I'm currently reading (and hating) a book for my book group and realised that I was prejudiced against it from the start because it's written in the present continuous tense, which I find irritating. I've been trying to think of other books where I've persevered and got over the irritation and can't recall any I've enjoyed. Am I on my own with this or do any of you dislike it too? Are there any really good books written in the present tense? I know it's supposed to up the tension and feeling of immediacy but it feels fake to me.

carlajean Sat 01-Feb-14 10:05:48

I've just finished rereading The Vagabond by Colette. I really love this book and was surprised when a reviewer pointed out it was in the present tense which, I agree, is difficult to carry off for a whole book.
(By the way, if anyone's tempted to try it, please don't read the USA translation that's on offer on kindle, which is very poor)

newmorning Sat 01-Feb-14 10:07:21

"Are there any really good books written in the present tense?"

All the great novels are written in the past tense so that has to be a clue.

The very nature of telling a story is to tell of events that happened 'once upon a time'.

Writing any lengthy work of fiction in the present tense is for attention-seeking 'writers' who want to be different and who think they can improve on perfection.

Trooperslane Sat 01-Feb-14 10:08:32

Really bugs me too.

carlajean Sat 01-Feb-14 10:15:22

That's a bit sweeping - just try The Vagabond, which is an unrecognized masterpiece IMO.

CrockedPot Sat 01-Feb-14 10:17:17

What book are you reading at your group, out of interest?

TheGirlOnTheLanding Sat 01-Feb-14 15:12:32

Thanks CarlaJean, I haven't read The Vagabond, will seek it out.

Halsall Sat 01-Feb-14 15:31:13

I hate this with a passion, too. I was reluctantly obliged to make an exception for Wolf Hall and the sequel, which I loved. But generally speaking, I still hate it.

Seems to me that there's a fashion for it amongst new/young/aspiring writers, and it just gives me the feeling that they don't have the experience or talent to write any other way (sweeping generalisation grin).

Didn't Philip Pullman have a massive rant about it not long ago?

JodieGarberJacob Sat 01-Feb-14 15:33:24

I couldn't get past the first few pages of Wolf Hall for this reason. And I used to love Patricia Cornwell's Scarpetta novels until she started using this device.

It drives me round the frigging bend. Loathe it. Wolf Hall irritated the heck out of me (not only because of this but this was a key reason) and I've just ploughed through the steaming pile of dross that was Morrissey's autobiography and was almost all in the present tense.

What I hate even more is when historians on the TV use the present tense to talk about History, which is OBVIOUSLY IN THE PAST. It makes me furious.


Another thing that REALLY annoys me is poor punctuation. Too many modern writers appear to have never met Colon, or his younger sibling, Semi, so ramble on for ever, using only commas - rather as I did then.

maillotjaune Sat 01-Feb-14 16:21:41

I think it's much harder to write well in the present tense but I love Wolf Hall and also Umbrella by Will Self which is all sorts of tenses grin .

So I don't find it's the tense but the quality of writing that matters. I think present tense is a bit of a gimmick for some writers and actually it's much harder to do well.

TheGirlOnTheLanding Sat 01-Feb-14 16:27:57

Yes, Remus! Clearly modern literary publishers are economising on proof reading, as there are some truly awful examples of under- or wrongly punctuated passages in lots of books now, IMO. All a bit stream of consciousness and you have to reread at least twice to be sure you've got the sense of it.

I did like Wolf Hall though (so much I clearly blanked its use of the present tense from my memory!) but it is a rare thing. I find it hard to get over, normally.

'Daphne' by Justine Picardie was the worst - half a page of writing with ne'er a full stop, colon or semi colon. Excruciating.

TheGirlOnTheLanding Sat 01-Feb-14 17:23:09

Halsall, do you remember where Philip Pullman had his rant (newspaper, arts review show on telly, radio?) If in print I may be able to google it: would like to hear his thoughts on it.

highlandcoo Sat 01-Feb-14 18:17:17

I usually hate it too. Although, like you OP, I didn't realise that Hilary Mantel had done this in Wolf Hall, which I really enjoyed. Did she do it throughout? I honestly wasn't aware of it. Too busy struggling with the bizarre use of "he" probably ..

Using the present tense has the opposite effect to what I presume the author intends .. it reminds me constantly that I'm reading something made-up and makes it impossible for me to suspend my disbelief and get caught up in the story.

I also detest time-shift narratives but that's a whole other subject!

SpookedMackerel Sat 01-Feb-14 18:27:25

Remus YES! It drives me crazy when TV historians talk in the present tense, especially since they never do it consistently, but instead flit randomly between a range of tenses, sometimes even in the same sentence.

Having said that, lots of books that I have really enjoyed have been written in the present tense - The Siege by Helen Dunmore, The Time Travellers Wife. I think Anita Shreve does it a lot, and it annoyed me at first, but then I got more into the stories and forgot. I agree it can be very irritating though.

Halsall Wed 05-Feb-14 12:10:25

Sorry, TheGirl, must check threads I'm on more often! Not sure if you'll find this but the Pullman piece was in the Guardian - here

pointythings Wed 05-Feb-14 13:08:51

I hate it too. I will not read a book written in the present tense and I don't bloody care that I may be missing out. So there.

I got caught out with a library book by Sophie Hannah which started out normal and then turned out to be half and half - I did not finish it. When in the library, I leaf through to check and when in a bookshop, I will not buy.

Writers, stop it. Just. Stop. It.

SolomanDaisy Wed 05-Feb-14 13:20:06

Not all great books are written in the past tense. Wolf Hall and Ulysses for example.

maillotjaune Wed 05-Feb-14 14:02:14

This probably isn't the right thread to recommend this but I've just finished Transatlantic by Column McCann which I loved (and it has some sections written in the present tense although most of it's past tense) grin

bibliomania Fri 07-Feb-14 11:42:24

Also very irritated with the present tense. I can sometimes overlook it if it's a very engaging book, but the author is fighting an uphill battle to win me over.

AlpacaLypse Fri 07-Feb-14 11:49:52

I immediately thought of Wolf Hall, which I was unable to finish due to present tense. I know I've rejected several others over the years because the style has put me off at the browsing stage.

I can't think of any book I've ever read that uses the present tense throughout. Some use it in sections, to indicate that a different character is narrating and I can just about cope with small doses, but if it goes on more than a couple of pages I'm starting to get irritated.

DuchessofMalfi Fri 07-Feb-14 12:22:21

I find it a struggle to engage with a novel written in the present tense.

The Cellist of Sarajevo - I listened to this on audio book recently. It's written in the present tense, and I know full well I would have given up on it had I been reading it.

The Night Circus - now I've worked out what my problem with that novel is grin Just didn't like it as much as I had thought I would, and now I know why.

But, oddly, I did like Wolf Hall. Probably because the story was so good, I was prepared to overlook the style.

Clawdy Fri 07-Feb-14 17:28:36

I really dislike novels written in the present tense,and wonder why a writer would choose to do this,as so many people find it annoying. Loved Wolf Hall though....

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