Monday, April 12, 2010

Wolf Hall Wore Me Out!

Well, my course work is done for awhile and I can concentrate again on my blog posts. I have been reading, but found that I just couldn't settle in with a novel. It feels like I have been reading The Tenant of Wildfell Hall forever, and in truth, I've probably abandoned it. I became impatient with it and vowed that I would see my next selection through to the end.
I read Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel. I'm not sure what led me to this book because it is not listed on my Tudor Challenge list and I felt quite guilty for reading this before the others. I had read many positive reviews about the novel and saw that it won the Man Booker prize. It was an impulsive choice. I was influenced by the award thing. (I am also the lady in the grocery store who buys any magazine that announces on the cover "Lose 10 lbs in two days with no exercise!" I then find out on p. 43 that I have to live on water, cayenne pepper and lemons for 48 hours.)
The novel is roughly 76 892 pages long. It painstakingly chronicles the influential role of Thomas Cromwell as King Henry VIII's right hand man through the years of his divorce from Catherine of Aragon (and ultimately the Vatican) and marriage to Anne Boleyn. I finished the novel because I vowed not to be impatient again. It exhausted me. I also now for the first time in my forty-three years wear glasses for reading. Of course, this may be purely coincidental.
For me, the first part of the novel where we learn about Cromwell's life as a child with an abusive father, was the best because it was told as a story. The scenes were vivid and the plot and transitions were clear. I was transported to England in the 1500's. I flew through these pages of his childhood and began to feel secure that the entire novel would read this way. In the following section Thomas Cromwell is reintroduced to the reader as an adult and this is where I started to get tired. The detail crept in and the scene and character transitions were more difficult to follow. I had to constantly flip back and forth to the list of characters to help me figure out who was speaking. I had to google. I used wikipedia. Yes, this novel was way too smart for me. It is for very serious people. Very serious readers. Uber smarty panters. It became more of a history text for me and less of a story. Important events in history strung together on Thomas Cromwell's clothesline.
I felt weighed down by the extraordinary attention to detail, facts, dates and people. Like swimming in a sea of thick vanilla pudding, plenty of substance, but all of it bland.
I like chocolate pudding. I like Ken Follett. I wanted this to be like a new Pillars of the Earth. Give me Tom Builder's story anyday. I'm going to read Philippa Gregory but need to take a break from Tudor England for just a little while. I've spent too much time in the Tower of London lately.


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