Saturday, 22 May 2010

Sublime to the ridiculous - Books at Movingtime

Just because I've been moving a family of five 350 miles is no excuse for not reading.

But worry not.  I haven't let you down. I have been reading.  I just haven't been blogging about it.

I started with Wolf Hall.  I had hopes of Wolf Hall, but I was also a bit scared of it.  I don't give up on books.  If I start a book, I am Magnus Magnusson-like in my determination to finish it.  In fact I can name all the books I have, as an adult, failed to finish*.  Even if I hate a book I won't put it down.

But that's not the right attitude any more.  If I am trying to ensure that I read properly, that I read for pleasure and that my reading, and the time I spend doing it, is worthwhile, whether because I learn something, or I am treated to good writing, or I just lose myself in a plot, then surely I shouldn't go on with reading something I'm not enjoying, should I?

And that being so, I was afraid I'd have to give up on Wolf Hall because  I don't tend to agree with the Booker judges.  I gave up (pause for shocked intake of breath) on Vernon God Little, I thought The Sea was really dull, Inheritance of Loss was all very well, but didn't light my fire, Life of Pi was great until the end when I got really cross and was forced to throw it across the room.  In fact, the only Booker prize-winning novel of the last ten or so years I've actively enjoyed was The Blind Assassin.

Until now.

I was totally carried away by Wolf Hall.  Which is even more amazing when you realise that you know the plot. It's about Thomas Cromwell, Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, so of course you know the plot.  You're hardly sitting in suspense wondering if it'll all work out ok and the lovers will get married and live happily ever after.  Except that you are.  Because even though you know the history, you don't know how it's going to end, because you don't know when it's going to end.  Will Anne still be alive? Will Cromwell?  Will Henry?

But that's not why I enjoyed it (once I'd got used to the mildly irritating and confusing way she often refers to Cromwell just as "he", regardless of any others in the scene to whom that personal pronoun could also be applied) .  I enjoyed it because I was there.  I was with the child Cromwell as he witnessed a burning, and with the adult as he watched the downfall of his patron, Wolsey, or gained the ear and trust of his king, or pleaded with Thomas More to take the oath that would save his life.  I could see it, smell it, taste it.

I sort of knew this period of history: I studied it, many moons ago, for A-level, and I wrote a dissertation on A Man for All Seasons, but it took Hilary Mantel to make it come alive.

And then I picked up Fatal Revenant - The Last Chronicles of Thomas Covenant by Stephen Donaldson.  I bought this one by weight, not quality, and it was a mistake.  Partially it's my own fault because I didn't read enough of it when I bought it to realise that it's book eight of a nine book series.  But it's also, with all due respect to Mr Donaldson, who is, I am sure a lovely chap, and kind to children and animals, utter guff.  Maybe if you've read all the others you'd get into it, but coming into it cold, it was full of the self-important, pretentious, cod-philosophising that characterises the worst in fantasy.  All of the navel-gazing self-indulgence of Tolkein, without the characters and plot that redeem it.

So, reader, I gave up.  I read the synopsis of the first seven books, struggled through the next hundred pages and then B got so bored of me whinging about it that he took it away.

And I am now reading The Mysteries of Pittsburgh by Michael Chabon. Because I picked it up cheap and I really enjoyed The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay.  Nearly finished actually, and then it'll be time for a bit of self-indulgent escapism as I read my Secret Post Club present.

* The Pope's Rhinoceros, Catch 22, The Alexandria Trilogy (only the first one, I never started the others), Q, Vernon God Little (won the Booker Prize, see above), and now The Last Chronicles of Thomas Covenant....

All book pictures from   Thank you to them.


  1. I adore you blog...I cant stop reading..I hope you would like to follow eachother....Please let me know...
    Kisses and enjoy your weekend:)

  2. I loved Hilary Mantel's "Eight Months on Ghazza Street". Maybe I'll give this one a try too.

  3. I have been meaning to write a post on Wolf Hall too. I'm similar to you in that I can't ever remember not finishing a book, my husband doesn't understand if I moan about something I'm reading why I don't just stop but I can't. And I also thought the ending in the Life of Pi was a load of crap (those teeth things still freak me out). But I was blown away by Wolf Hall, I found it heavy to start with (not helped by the over-characterisation and the way she refers to Cromwell as He - took me ages to figure this out) but Mantel carried me through the whole story with her imagery. I'm convinced the woman is a genius and I now have a new obsession with all things Tudor (I'm Irish by the way)...

  4. travellingjoss25 May 2010 at 17:55

    H, am also a Mantel fan, read Wolf Hall on my travels and felt as you did about it. Have cunningly book exchanged Wolf Hall for her french revolution number, A Place of Greater Safety, which is proving just as riveting. I think they will even bear re-reading. Rarer than hens teeth. love J in Bolivia

  5. Diana - thank you! Off to pay you a visit.

    Iota - you so should! Although the first (and so far only other) Mantel I read was Back in Black which I didn't enjoy at all, so maybe she varies.

    Patchwork Bird - Nice to know I'm not alone!Will have to wrack my brains for other Tudor based works of genius! Have you read The Other Boleyn Girl? Not actually one of my favourites, but will give you another side to Mary Boleyn...

    Joss - hello! Will let you Back in Black when you're Back in Blighty. I actually didn't like it much (and so it rather put me off Wolf Hall - v glad it didn't), but will be interested to see what you think. Mother-in-law currently reading A Place of Greater Safety and said she was struggling rather, so will snaffle that off her when they're back from Dubai...

    Oh, and a big thanks to everyone for not pointing out my deliberate mistake in counting Henries... off to correct myself now.

  6. I have learned to give up on books. Best thing I ever did, in reading land. But now I have too many part-finished books. I learned to give up on books around the same time I realised that breaking a spine or accidentally creasing a page of a book doesn't kill you and doesn't change the contents. Both have made me so much more relaxed about reading.

  7. Just spotted this and had to laugh a bit - you probably don't want to be "discovering" Thomas Covenant any older than 16 and preferably sometime in the mid 1980s to boot :) I've read the first and second chronicles several times in the last 25 years and haven't been able to suffer the rather delayed last chronicles either - and I was a teenage SF/Fantasy freak (OK was... is... same thing.. except I'm old now).

  8. Mwa - what? The book police don't come and get you if you break the spine? Are you sure?

    Mrs W - that explains it. They should get you to write the blurb on the back of books really. Then I'd know where I am.... and if you ever decide you want to get into the Last Chronicles, I have a copy going spare...


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