(Original Review, December 21st 2007)
NB: Read in German.
Not every difficult book is by definition a good one - not every challenge is worth taking.
A good writer can do both, like Ishiguro. Write a book for the mainstream readers, to pick them up where they stand and travel with them. Or write a book so obscure that only very few will even want to go on that journey, those books are often a sign of arrogance, often more a book for them than for readers. And then you have Eco, who could mix the two.
“Night Train to Lisbon” is one of those bad difficult books, with two narratives interwoven. It did not appeal to me and came over as rather self-indulging prattle imo. The philosopher/writer (he is a philosopher when he is not writing books) has emptied his aphorism box and took out all his notes and stitched them together - rather to give those texts an airing ...
So yes, there are bad and there are good challenging books. But the latter are rather rare. The modernist model of literary fiction continues to prevail but there seem actually to be relatively few efforts to transform the novel AS medium into a vehicle for the transmission of ideas/narratives/world-views that absorbs our modes of thinking and communicating as determined by the technological world today.
The most that has been said is that many novelists have been influenced more by film/television than their forebears a hundred years ago. Perhaps we should question the decisions of the publishing industry here - who can say but them which texts get greenlit? There are presumably peers of the novelist Danielowski who are playing with the idea of 'the book' (see "House of Leave" and successors) using the transmedia possibilities of the internet to do so.
A consensus of subjective responses influenced, in varying degrees, by reputations (of the artworks themselves and of previous critics). And those reputations are also the result of subjective responses. Reputation is a severe deterrent against revealing what you really think of an artwork, if that happens not to coincide with the reputation. It's part of what Robert Pirsig called the "cultural immune system", the set of widely-held values within a community that, for better or worse, are resistant to change. When will the consensus deems "Night Train to Lisbon" really bad? I don't get it why I book with the most beautiful city in the world in the title should be this bad...