Monday, February 4, 2013

My unfinished book last summer

Hilary Mantel - Wolf Hall

I DON'T LIKE that much

I have to admit like mentioned before that the last couple of months were quite stressful and instead of reading along my ever growing book list I spent most mornings in the underground with closed eyes listening to music. It's better now, but before I am ready to go again with new stuff, I need to first catch up on some loose ends. 

I started reading "Wolf Hall" already last summer, put it down, started reading again, put it down, started reading again ... and finally stopped half way through. That's something rarely do. I can give a book time to unfold, I am not scared by a couple of hundred pages and I almost never give up. So why here?

When I started reading I really wanted to like this book. It has won many prices, the reviews were overwhelmingly positive and I am in general really into historical novels like this. "Wolf Hall" to give you some background goes back to the 15th/16th century and tells the tale of Thomas Cromwell (1485-1540), the 1st Earl of Essex and chief minister of King Henri VIII. For those of you who are more into watching TV: The fabulous James Frain played Cromwell's character in "The Tudors".

I studied history as one of my three subjects at university. That does not mean that I know all about for example about Thomas Cromwell and Henri VIII, but it means that if I want to learn more about a certain epoche I know how to get the information. I actually love doing this and find historical sources and decent secondary literature absolutely not boring. I especially love when a couple of specialists argue about something and you try to form an opinion about what might have happened for real and why. History is something very exciting. 

When I read a historical novel on the other hand I want it to fill the holes the historical sources leave with fiction and bring the characters to life, turn them from data into real people, make me like or dislike them, make me time travel in another century, feed my phantasy. And exactly in this point "Wolf Hall" lets me down. It is probably just me, but the timing does not feel right. There are moments - especially with Cromwell and his wife and children - which were very much like what I was looking for, but then there is always a switch in the scenario or a jump forward in time that stops dead the flow again. And this is pretty much why I lost interest - none of the characters spoke to me or better - got a proper chance to speak to me - and after trying for like almost 300 pages I gave up. 

I do not doubt that Hilary Mantel's novel is extremely well researched and may even offer a portrait of Cromwell and his time as close as you can get based on what the sources offer, but for me personally it lacks emotion. I know this is a a bit unfair, because the descriptions of people, places, the circumstances of living and political situation are very vivid, already include a lot of imagination and are well written. It is just that writing has a lot to do with decisions like I just discussed with my best friend, and Hilary Mantel obviously decided to not go too far with speculations and imagination about the soul and feelings of her characters. This is a decision I can respect and even understand, because we of course do not know what Thomas Cromwell or any of the others historical characters really felt. It is just not what I personally want from a novel.

Most other people and reviewers obviously saw that with different eyes and I totally encourage you to read the book to make your own opinion, while I move on to a couple of books which will feed my needs hopefully more than this one.

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