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Wolf Hall

I have been reading Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel for what feels like months and months, and have finally come to the end.  I can't say it's not a bit of a relief.   The story was well told, and Thomas Cromwell at least came over as an engaging character, with his hidden doubts and alarming efficiency and unexpected kindnesses.  And it was a memorable book, there were many images that stuck in my head.     But two things stopped me really enjoying the reading.

1) Use of pronouns.  I know this is a really pedantic and annoying niggle, but I just could not get past the way the author wrote about her protagonist Cromwell.  She wrote as though it was a first-person narrative, everything seen through Cromwell's eyes and thoughts - but in the third person. 

But the problem with this is that if one writes 'Norfolk walked across the room.  I opened the door' then it is immediately clear to the mind's eye who is walking, and who is opening the door.    If you just do a global search and replace on 'I' and put in 'he' instead, rather than writing the sentence with names in the third person - then suddenly I, as the reader, am constantly slamming my head into scenes where I can't quite work out who is doing what.   It made for a very slow read, because I was constantly going back and re-re-reading so I could visualise what was going on.  Looking at other reviews, I see many people were also bothered by the inconsistent punctuation - this didn't bother me as much.  I can live with erratic punctuation for effect, but I just could not sail past the use of pronouns. 

2) And this is an entirely personal one: I just cannot bring myself to care that much about the Tudors - particularly fat spoiled Henry and his many wives.  I don't know why.   I was hoping this book would manage to kindle more of an interest, but no. I keep trying to read stuff set in the Tudor period and it never quite works for me.  My interest in British monarchy just seems to peter out with the Wars of the Roses.



( 10 comments — Leave a comment )
11th Dec, 2012 20:38 (UTC)
I've been stuck on about page 10 for the last 5 years, but I really ought to try and move forward a little - thanks for the good example!
12th Dec, 2012 09:17 (UTC)
I don't think I'll be re-reading, put it that way. It was worth reading once, but the style was too annoying.
11th Dec, 2012 21:31 (UTC)
Interesting! Mantel really hits the spot with me. I'd love to write like her, and have wished I could write like her since i read A Place of Greater Safety in 2004. But I can't, so what the heck! I can't write like Linda Proud, either. I just write like me...
12th Dec, 2012 09:22 (UTC)
I think she has a LOT of good points as a writer - it's a long complex book, yet I did feel it told a fascinating story. But that kind of inclarity of writing style is something I find hard to get past. I'm sure it's deliberate, but that didn't make me enjoy it more.

If I have a 'Wow, I would love to write like that!' author, it would have to be Le Guin, and her style is the opposite, so clear you almost don't notice it is there.
12th Dec, 2012 20:16 (UTC)
I know what you mean - I loved Le Guin's Earthsea books and the style, as you say, is effortless. I don't know what there is about Mantel - when I read A Place of Greater Safety, I was blown away. Linda Proud's excellent, BTW, if you like a good bit of historical fiction. She's very poetic.
(Deleted comment)
12th Dec, 2012 19:27 (UTC)
I am not sure why the Tudors seem to get so much love! Maybe it's the clothes.
13th Dec, 2012 01:03 (UTC)
The clothes are helpful (that was my gateway), but I think there's a lot of fascinating stuff going on in the period wrt to literacy (which was surprisingly high), theatre (not just Shakespeare), changing roles for women, and the development of various crafts (particularly embroidery). Also Bess of Hardwick = amazing. I can't speak for anyone else's interest in the period, of course, and I don't think most fans of the period are quite as interested in the history of professional embroidery as I am....
12th Dec, 2012 16:46 (UTC)
Well, that's off my reading list. Deliberate inclarity of writing is probably my number #1 dealbreaker; I think it's a lazy way to "challenge" the reader and it makes me cranky (and seems to be mostly championed by people who are convinced that clear writing--and genre writing--can't be complex or challenging).

I tried reading the first few pages, and I think I'd rather read Elizabethan primary sources in the original spelling. :-/
12th Dec, 2012 19:26 (UTC)
In some contexts, I quite like a non-standard way of writing that maybe has a certain inclarity to it - for example, in Miéville's The City and The City, I liked the way it was written because it sounded as if it was someone speaking with a strong Czech accent, using words as though they were not quite a native English speaker. Something about the word order, that sort of thing - I felt really worked with the setting.

But this particular book - no. It just seemed affected and confusing.

Elizabethan sources definitely preferable!
13th Dec, 2012 01:00 (UTC)
I really like "non-standard" writing if it's done well and for a solid reason, particularly if "non-standard" really means "Englishes that aren't American/Australian/British" -- Nalo Hopkinson's SFF, for example, draws heavily on Caribbean Englishes, and it takes a few pages of getting used to, but then it makes perfect sense, because it is a living use of language. I haven't read that particular Mieville novel, but that sounds like a similar thing.

Whereas taking a perfectly functional rule of grammar and chucking it out the window to be symbolic (?) when no one would normally talk or write that way...seems unnatural to me, and not in a good way. Why do that? I'd rather be challenged with ideas than with trying to figure out exactly how the author has unilaterally attempted to rewrite the rules of grammar.

(But of course, both of our examples are literary SFF writers.)

The Elizabethan era is actually probably my favorite in European history, and I really do like Elizabethan primary sources! Although not so much if I have to try to parse the handwriting. Wills are especially fascinating (there seemed to be quite the late 16th century cottage saffron-growing industry in Essex, for example, which I never would have guessed! And one will had this hilarious bit about leaving something to her son, unless he whined about it, and then he'd get nothing). It sounds like even aside from the writing tics, Wolf Hall probably doesn't approach Elizabethan England with an attitude that would interest me.
( 10 comments — Leave a comment )

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