Mark Twain described it as “the most unintentionally humorous piece of literature ever written.” Tolkien and Lewis would take turns reading it and see how far they could get without laughing. Over the years, it has been regarded as one of the most notorious examples of bad writing ever published.
The book of which I speak? Irene Iddesleigh by Amanda McKittrick Ros.
You would be perfectly justified in asking how I managed to ingest such a uniquely horrid specimen; and I, for my part, would be perfectly honest in saying that I did it by accident. Mostly by accident, anyway. I was taken by surprise – waylaid by pretentious storytelling of the basest order, ambushed by prose so ostentatiously purple it puts the Japanese eggplant to shame.
Here’s how it happened. I was on the hunt for something funny to read, which led me to peruse several ‘best of’ lists on the internet (lists with titles like “25 Most Hilarious Books Ever Written” and so on). These lists featured an interesting jumble of classic and modern comedic fiction – some of which I’d read, some of which I’d only heard of, and some which was completely alien to me. Irene Iddesleigh was one of the latter. It was free on Kindle, so I picked it up. And somehow during this entire process, the phrase “unintentionally funny” never really clicked with me.
For the first thirty odd pages, I read under the impression that Ms. Ros was being over-the-top purely for comedic effect. Her prose was so flowery, her word-craft so abysmally turgid, I assumed it was deliberately so – a lampooning of poorly-written melodramas or some such rot.
As the story went on, a suspicion took root which – being watered with twenty more pages of this frightful stuff – quickly grew into a certainty: Ms. Ros was taking herself way too seriously. She wasn’t lampooning anything; she seemed instead to regard herself as the next Austen or Bronte.
The pretentiousness of this delusion was fully matched by her writing. A character’s blush of passion, for example, would call forth something like this:
“Speak! Irene! Wife! Woman! Do not sit in silence and allow the blood that now boils in my veins to ooze through cavities of unrestrained passion and trickle down to drench me with its crimson hue!”
(I’m fairly certain Ms. Ros should be the one blushing at this point.)
As Mark O’Connel puts it: “This stuff is, in lowish doses, quite entertaining, but if you read enough of it, its absurdity seems to spread outward to the whole of literature. Ros’ writing is not just bad, in other words; its badness is so potent that it seems to undermine the very idea of literature.”
Well, really. I don’t think there’s much more to be said.