See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt

What happens when the creative writing class goes wrong…


I freely admit it – I’m pedantic. There are 171,456 words listed as being current in the Oxford English Dictionary, plus over 40,000 obsolete ones, and I feel that should be enough for most novels without the author feeling the need to create her own, or to use them in ‘innovative’ ways. So I quivered when, on page 1, Schmidt comes up with ‘My heart beat nightmares, gallop, gallop…’ When she repeats the sentence ‘The clock on the mantel ticked ticked.’ three times in the first few pages, it merely annoyed me three times instead of once. When she describes the maid as bringing with her ‘the smell of decayed meaty-meat’, I seriously considered turning vegetarian.

‘…strange feelings popped across my bones’, ‘My teeth were cold against my teeth’, ‘I shooed her along, my wrist a flick and crunch’, ‘Her chest heaved, soft, child-suckled breasts.’, ‘Her lips parted, a sea.’ But the clincher was ‘I went to the pail of water by the well, let my hands sink into the cool sip sip…’

Since the book is unaccountably garnering positive reviews, clearly plenty of people like this kind of writing. But not me. Abandoned at 2%, since I can’t begin to imagine that any story could possibly compensate for the awfulness of the prose. I shall go off now and have some cakey-cake and a mug of coffee-flavoured sip sip in the hopes of heating up my teeth…

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Grove Atlantic.

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107 thoughts on “See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt

  1. Normally I like to decide for myself on books, movies, desserts, etc. but I am so glad I won’t be including this book in my few remaining decades after reading your review. Thanky-thanks to you, Fiction Fan-Fan-Fanatic

  2. Oh my gosh! I’m irritated just from the examples you have provided. Reads worse than a kiddies book. What a pity.
    Ooh…but see you are Currently Reading a Bernard Cornwell….any good???? I haven’t read him for ages and it “looks” good….

  3. Funny, no one else has mentioned that in their review of this book… yes, it would set my teeth on edge. I’ve had issues with overwriting before – for instance with Emma Cline’s The Girls – but this seems to be almost the counterpoint of that.

    • I know! I did wonder if maybe it settled down after a bit – I seem to remember thinking that about The Girls, that the prose got better as it went along, and also Tana French’s first novel where I nearly didn’t make it through the prologue. But wiht this one I couldn’t even bear to give it my usual 10%…

      • Aha! I wanted to try a Tana French, so I thought (logically) I should start at the beginning. But it seemed to go on and on and I just couldn’t get into it. I feel better that it wasn’t just me. It gets better? And her others?

        • I did think it improved after a bit, but I wasn’t nearly as blown away by it as lots of people were. It was far too long for its content, and got very repetitive, and she got a bit carried away with her own writing at times, if you know what I mean. I haven’t gone on to read any of the others although I have the next one on my Kindle. I will one day, but I don’t feel any real urgency… 😦

    • I hate this sort of “creative” writing – stick to ordinary English and come up with a great story, I say! But to be fair, loads of people are loving this ine, so maybe it improves as it goes along…

    • Hideous, isn’t it? Haha – I shall be having rotten tomatoes thrown at me since several of my blog buddies really enjoyed it! 😉 I shall have to see if I can tempt you with some literary crime – after all Bleak House is a crime novel, and Crime and Punishment, of course… 😉

    • Haha – you are not alone! Several of my blogging buddies have loved this one. I’m expecting to be splattered with rotten tomatoes, but we pedants have to make a standy-stand sometime… 😉

    • Haha – glad you enjoyed the “review”, and I hope you enjoy the book too! To be fair, I’ve seen loads of positive reviews of it, so maybe the writing improves as it goes on… 😉

  4. This post made me laugh. The examples are annoying. Me won’t like it, sniff, sniff. Writing like this puts me off, instead of meaty-meat, it smells like a teenager, cheesey-cheese-cheese, easy-peasy, lemon squish.
    Conjure some evocative words and glue them with bad grammar, and voila, the Creative Writing Novel.

    • Haha – I just had to get it out of my system before it began to fester – I’d hate to end up smelling like decayed meaty-meat! You can tell a “creative writing” novel from a mile away, can’t you? Oh, for the days when writers were simply creative… 😉

  5. So what did you really think of the writing, FictionFan? No need to hold back… In all seriousness, I understand what you mean. Sometimes things like that are enough to drive a person over the brink. You know, as I mentioned the other day, I keep hearing such good things about this book. Hmmmm…..not sure at all now..

    • I loved it! 😉 Haha – I just had to get it out of my system. I’m thinking of offering a prize to anyone who can tell me what “her lips parted, a sea” is actually supposed to mean! But so many people are liking it that I can only assume it either doesn’t go on like that, or that I just have a particular allergy to it. If you do read it, I hope your experience is less baddy-bad than mine – you may want to fortify yourself with some nice vintage sip sip first… 😉

      • Hahaha! Well, that’s as good an excuse as any! 😉 – It is interesting, FictionFan, how this one uses that sort of phrasing and language. Hate it, like it, or love it, it’s interesting purely from a linguistic standpoint.

        • It is! And equally interesting why it really stands out to some readers and yet other readers don’t seem to mind, or even to notice it particularly. There must be lots of different ways our brains process reading…

  6. I love reading blog posts in the morning while I also sip-sip my coffee so thanks for giving me a laugh this morning:) I could barely read the examples they were just cringe worthy….actually I’m still confused about how teeth can be cold against teeth…yikes! I’ll be passing on this one

    • Haha – hope I didn’t make you choky-choke! Yeah, the teeth one is pretty baffling, but I’m more concerned about “her lips parted, a sea”, because if that actually means anything at all I’m clearly too thick to work out what… 😉 To be fair, loads of people seem to be liking it though… *baffled expression*

      • But why! Her lips parted, a sea, obvious. Her lips are like Moses’s staff, that parted the Red Sea, so, her lips parted, must be big red lips. (She probably has dry mouth, though).

  7. Oh dear, dear, dear. Will skip, skip, skip and find another booky book to read. It’s breakfast time here, so I’m looking for some meaty meat to eat.
    Seriously, like Renee, I usually read your reviews while I have my morning coffee. Glad I set the cup down. Otherwise, I would have choked on the coffee while laughing. XD

    • Hahaha – I’m glad you enjoyed it! I feel I may have been rather cruelly-cruel, but honestly! What’s wrong with standard English??? It’s enough to drive a girl to alcoholic sip sip! 😉

  8. Ha!!! Loved this ‘review’! As I sippy-sip my coffee. I have a e-arc of this one. Am on the fence as to whether I’ll read it. And was looking forward to reading about Lizzie Borden. LOL

    • Haha – glad you enjoyed it! But don’t let me put you off – loads of people seem to really likey-like it! *baffled expression* Yeah, I still think it sounds as though it should have been interesting – oh, well!

  9. Ahahaa! I’m sorry, but I love it when a book has riled you up. I picture Tuppence clawing out pages of this Wordy Wordsmith attempting to be clever in hopes of impressing a former MFA professor! No one fools, FF! 😉

    • Hahaha – so cruel to mock me in my misery! Sorry, that should, of course, be mocky-mock… I imagine people of the future looking back at the literature of today and saying “Whaaaa…?” 😉

  10. I enjoyed this book and took the examples you’ve quoted as evidence of Lizzie’s disturbed and unstable mind – she is the narrator. It’s eerie and unsettling (to say the least) and it made me feel as if I was inside her crazy demented mind.

    But your review did make me laugh!

    • I tried to make allowances for her state of mind and also for the fact that she was writing either as a child or about when she was a child – I didn’t really get far enough to find out which. But I felt that no child of eleven would still be using terms like “sip sip” for water, nor on the other hand ever use a term like “child-suckled breasts”! Haha! I fear I’m simply too pedantic to put up with this kind of prose whatever the reason for it, but I’m glad you enjoyed it anyway! I’ve definitely decided life is too short to struggle on with books that make me wince… 😉

        • To be honest, I didn’t make it far enough to really judge whether it suited the character or not – I just knew I couldn’t bear to read any more of it. For me, that’s the problem with “innovative” writing – sometimes it actually backfires by taking attention away from the story or meaning.

  11. FF, I needed a good laugh this morning and I found one here — thank you!! What dreadful prose! And you mean to tell me that people actually *like* this sort of thing? Oh dear, I’m in trouble then because I refuse to write that way. I’m with you all the way … no way would I trudge through something like this. My time is far more valuable! Great rant, my friend!

    • Haha – glad it made you laugh! 😀 I know – I don’t understand it either, but the book is getting mostly good reviews. Maybe I’m just too old to accept “creative writing” – that used to mean great grammar, flowing writing and strong plots, but now it seems to mean being “innovative” – hmm! More cakey-cake for me, I think… 😉

  12. I think I’m most annoyed by the teeth one. I don’t think teeth actually feel the same way skin receives signals, thus, your cold teeth couldn’t feel your other cold teeth. Do you think the book was trying to sound babyish in the style of A Clockwork Orange?

    • Haha – exactly! I’m pretty sure bones don’t “feel” either! I think she was trying to achieve the thoughts of a crazed child who’d just killed her parents, but even so – I can’t imagine an eleven year old, hoever crazed, using “sip sip” for water or talking about “child-suckled breasts”!

  13. Your review did make me laugh. I have to this read, I bought it on publication day as I was so looking forward to it. I shall go in with an open mindy mind! 🙂

    • Haha – glad it made you laugh! And also glad I haven’t put you offy-off! It’s definitely getting more positive reviews than negative ones, so I reckon I’m just allergic to this kind of writing. So take some anti-histamines, plunge in and I hope you enjoy it… 😉

  14. Is the narrator supposed to be a child? Or of a non-English culture? I can generally get on board if there’s a reason for such language but otherwise, yeah, I’m with you.

    • She’s either an 11-year-old who’s just murdered her parents or an adult looking back to that day – I didn’t get far enough to decide! But even so I couldn’t imagine an 11-year-old, however crazed, calling water “sip sip” or talking about “child-suckled breasts”! And “Her lips parted, a sea.” utterly baffles me. I fear I’m just allergic to this kind of writing… 😉

  15. Already 55 comments, but I couldn’t resist. I’m editing a translation of a book by an educator called Charlotte Mason, and she says this:

    Men move the world, but the motives which move men are conveyed by words. Now, a person is limited by the number of things he is able to call by their names, qualify by appropriate epithets; this is no mere pedantic ruling, it belongs to that unfathomable mystery we call human nature; and the modern notion of education, with its shibboleth of “things not words,” is intrinsically demoralizing. The human intelligence demands letters, literature, with a more than bread-hunger.

    It’s slightly different to the topic at hand, though, but previously, she also lamented the inability of men and women in her times to express thought with more than monosyllables.

    Unless the author is talking as a child (I’m not a native English speaker, but I these examples didn’t sound like a non native would talk), it just shows poor understanding of language disguised as a ‘new way of writing’.

    • Never too many comments, so thanks for joining in! 😀

      Interesting quote, and I pretty much agree with it. For me, to a large degree, the writing is the tool rather than the product. The product is the story or the thought and the words are there primarily to convey that, so elegant grammar and a good vocabulary are vital. That’s not to say I don’t enjoy sparkling prose, but again for me that works best when an author says something profound in a memorable way. “Innovative” writing rarely works for me, and I know I’m pedantic about it – I also struggle with stream of consciousness, lots of modern poetry and so on. However, I can cope with a bit of “innovation” if it’s good – but truly, “sip sip”?? Ugh! 😉

  16. Oh, be still my beaty-beaty-beaty heart! I would have thrown the tome across the room. Yes, most definitely. Good for you for going against whatever grain there may be. I’m thinking it’s more chaff than grain, anyway. And I’m thrilled that you didn’t waste any more time on it. Cheers!

    • Haha! The throwing the book thing becomes expensive when they’re all in the Kindle! I don’t understand it, but the book is getting loads of positive reviews so plenty of people must be able to cope with the writing… but I’m becoming ever more cynical and bitter as I age… 😉

  17. I’m glady-glad you posted this and saved me precious reading time!

    Is there context for the quote about different tooth temps? Is it bad poetry or a bad description of partial dentures? The “ticked ticked” bothers me the least of your examples since it describes the sound of a clock, BUT it would irritate me as soon as it was repeated. Plus, “sip sip” undermines it. It’s not fun onomatopoeia when it’s surrounded by lame baby-talk.

    Thanks for the laugh, though! 🙂 One positive for the book: gorgeous cover!

    • Haha! Sometimes I just have to get a book out of my system! 😉 Well, not exactly, but she’s kinda describing being in shock and the girl is supposed to be crazy so… but I fear I still couldn’t live with it! It is gorgeous, isn’t it? And despite my grumpy appraisal, it’s getting loads of positive reviews too…

  18. I do know what you mean – this irked me too, but I put it down to Schmidt’s interpretation of Lizzie’s voice. It was childish & annoying & indicated straight away (to me) that there was something off about her thinking/relating abilities.

    But I enjoy it when bloggers I admire have differing interpretations. If we all loved the same books all the time, it would be boring!

    But I did love The Luminaries too 😊

    • Indeed it would! That’s why I always hope people won’t be completely put off by my occasional rant – it’s all so subjective. So I’m always glad when other people put an alternative view in the comments. With this one, I’m sure it just set off some kind of allergic reaction with me… 🙂
      The Luminaries was great, wasn’t it? I wish she’d hurry up and bring out a new one…

  19. Well, my dear, we really, really agree! I am afraid my teeth were clicking and grinding with irritability. This won’t be reviewed, anywhere, by me as I was far too irritated by what seemed laboured and winsome contrivance (yes, I know, a weird combination, given subject matter) to continue for long. When you have to whip and punish yourself to read a book like some sort of penance, I have to get out of there!

    • I’m glad to hear I’m not alone! I’d seen several positive reviews of it, some glowing, and yet no-one had really mentioned the prose – or at least not enough for me to have noticed. And yet I didn’t make it through page 1 before I was shuddering! I don’t normally review books I abandon this quickly but a couple of people had asked what I thought… haha! Well, now they know!

  20. Ps, I loved your review though, which gave me much pleasure and allowed me to remember my profound irritation with this annoying book with pleasure . I did, I think, whip myself to go a deal further than 2%, which loss of time, and better books to have spent it with, I regret. This book, in my opinion, is Bah! Humbug!!

    • Thanks, m’dear! Ha! I’m trying to develop enough brutality to stop struggling quicker – occasionally it’s worth soldiering on, but too often it isn’t! And I’m unlikely to run out of reading material…

  21. I’d been rather looking forward to this book, having read some good reviews. But I totally understand why it drove you bananas! I actually prefer it when you hate a book, as it provides me with a great deal of amusement – and clearly I’m not the only one! Don’t know whether to tackle it or not – it’s bound to irritate my inner pedant too….I’ll perhaps give it a bash at some point, although I won’t be rushing to it as much as I’d intended to (perhaps the other 98% is wonderful?!) x

    • Haha! Everyone seems to enjoy my misery – it’s not fair! But seriously, loads of sensible people have thoroughly enjoyed this one – Cleo, Margaret, etc – so don’t let me put you off! Usually I try to go for at least 10% before abandoning but I knew I was having an allergic reaction to this one, so thought I better leave it before I broke out in spots… 😉

    • Haha – sorry about that! But I have to say loads of people I respect have loved it, so don’t let me put you off. Plunge in, get past the sip sip, and enjoy! 😀

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