Thursday, March 18, 2010

my reading...

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I have totally been neglecting my book list for this year. Too busy writing to do much reading!

Anyway, just thought I'd make mention of one book I read recently (it took me 2 months to finish).

The Man-Booker Prize winning Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel.

Which has to be the most irritating slog I have endured for a long time. Shame, because I studied this period of history at uni (the book is about Thomas Cromwell's rise to power in Tudor times), I love the topic, the era, I am enormously respectful of Mantel's research -- and the reason for it being such a slog was such a small thing that could have been fixed.

In the interests of not using the names "Thomas" or "Cromwell" too much, Mantel uses "he" most of the time. Which leads to such monstrosities as this, a passage that starts after a text break:

When Fisher comes to his senses and asks pardon, the old bishop begs the king to consider that he is ill and infirm. The king indicates that the bill of attainder must take its course: but it is his habit, he says, to grant mercy to those who admit their fault.

The Maid is to be hanged. He says nothing of the chair of human bones. He tells Henry she has stopped prophesying, and hopes that at Tyburn, with the noose around her neck, she will not make a liar out of him.


When his councillors kneel before the king, and beg that Thomas More's name be taken out of the bill, Henry yields the point. Perhaps he has been waiting for this: to be persuaded. Anne is not present, or it might have gone otherwise.


They get up and go out, dusting themselves. He thinks he hears the cardinal laughing at them, from some invisible part of the room.

The first he is Fisher. The second is - I think - King Henry, but because of Mantel's propensity to use he for Cromwell all the time, I can't be sure. It could be Cromwell protesting to the king, although I don't think so. The third he I assume is Henry until I read on. The fourth refers to Cromwell, so I guess the third does too. The fifth is King Henry. The sixth...I assume is also Cromwell. And so it goes on throughout the book.

The problem is that every time Mantel uses he I am plucked out of the story to think about who she means. What should have been a wonderful read became tedious hard work, because my brain is programmed to think that a stray he refers back to the previous male character mentioned, especially if that character was the last subject of a sentence.

And this is supposed to be writing good enough to win the Booker? Nope, sorry. Not to me.

Grammatical rules are there for a purpose. Break them at your peril. If you do it well, it can enhance the story, do it badly and you spoil the book for the reader. Obviously the Booker judges didn't mind having to sort it out every time they hit a he. I did.

1 comment:

Jo said...

I haven't read it, but I do understand what you mean. Nothing more irritating than to have to keep stopping to sort out what the author meant, especially when its a big grammatical problem.