When to Bail on Books

I recently joined a book club. The first book I was supposed to read was Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall. I only had about a week and half to read it, which isn’t a lot of time considering it’s almost 700 pages. But, I was up to the challenge because I’d wanted to read it for quite some time.

Wolf Hall is historical fiction. It’s set in the world of Henry VIII and the protagonist is Thomas Cromwell. Henry is trying to divorce Catherine and marry Anne Boleyn. He distances himself from the Catholic Church and Cromwell fills the administrative vacuum. In short, we follow Cromwell’s Machiavellian rise through Henry VIII’s court.

Unfortunately, I could never get into Wolf Hall. It’s very tedious. The plot is directionless and the prose isn’t enough for me to look past the meandering action. Mantel also has a very annoying habit of losing track of personal pronouns. Whenever Cromwell is doing something, Mantel consistently uses “he” without making it clear it’s Cromwell. This gets enragingly confusing when multiple characters are thrown in the mix.

My biggest beef was that I found Cromwell’s characterization muddled. Mantel sets herself apart by characterizing Cromwell as a much more sympathetic character than is often seen. However, Mantel’s depiction of Cromwell is unearned. It didn’t make sense for me to watch him be a sweetheart in private life and then have a badass reputation in public. We rarely see him do anything that warrants his rep.

I was very disappointed. I was pumped to read Wolf Hall. The book is so acclaimed and well reviewed. I rarely disagree with critics, especially when it comes to lit. Christ, I even loved Ulysses.

After a week and half I trudged through 400 pages. I showed up to the book club to be pleasantly surprised that everyone else had the same reaction. No one liked it. Most of us have Masters’ in English, so it’s not like we’re strangers to dense writing. I can’t get over the disconnect between critics and readers on this one.

I told myself I’d finish it even though I missed the book club deadline. Yet, despite being more than half way though, I couldn’t push myself through it.

My ego forces me to not give up on a book. I have this belief that if I get to the end, something will reveal itself and allow me to take something out of the the experience. Even if I don’t like it, I can at least have an authoritative opinion. That’s a very academic position, though, and now that I’m out of university, I’m free to read whatever I want, so I’ve committed myself to only reading what excites me and giving up on what doesn’t.

Whether you’re a student or not, I know I’m not the only one who takes pride on being able to stick through tough reads, but what’s the point? Life is too short to read something you don’t enjoy. I’ll never get to read all the great books that are out there, so it stands to reason that I should be more discerning with my time.

Right now, I’ve given up on Wolf Hall and am re-reading Light in August. It was definitely the right choice.




~ by braddunne on August 16, 2013.

2 Responses to “When to Bail on Books”

  1. I usually quit a book after 100 pages at the most! I’ve picked Wolf Hall up a few times and quickly put it back down. People who like it seem to really like it, but I guess it’s not for everyone.

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