I consider myself an avid reader. Perhaps even a bit of a bibliophile. I’ve read many difficult books – but never have I read a book that seemingly aims to purposefully confuse and derail the reader.
Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel is well researched and all, and set in the time of the Tudors with Henry VIII, Anne Boleyn, Thomas Cromwell and the court machinations that characterised his reign. Its a dense weave of a book and she has clearly done her research. But here’s the thing: all this is futile if the grammar is atrocious and the speech utterly confusing. There are many paragraphs where you have no idea who is speaking because the author uses the pronoun ‘he’ – but with no indication of who ‘he’ is. Is it Thomas Cromwell speaking? Or perhaps the Cardinal? or Harry Percy? Or the King? Or is it Anne?
It plods along like this, and you end up having to re-read whole paragraphs 3-4 times just to figure out who is saying what and what is going on!
You can call me thick, but I’ve never read a book that has annoyed me so much. Why make it so difficult? Or is it me? Am I thick? Am I stupid? Am I a literary philistine? Am I unable to comprehend a revolutionary literary style of writing?
As indicated, the first problem is the use of the word ‘he’, at every opportunity, to refer to all of the three, four, or five people participating in the same scene. You’re often left having to re-read every other sentence and to try and guess which person is speaking or being referred to. So determined to stick pronouns everywhere the author often puts one unnecessarily in front of a person’s name “He, Cromwell, said…”
The second problem is the inconsistent format for denoting speech. Sometimes it has quotes around it, sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes you’re reading something a character is thinking followed by what he’s saying and then, even, what the narrator thinks about it, but without any syntactical indication of which is which.
Elsewhere there are multiple people speaking in the same paragraph, with and without quotes. Why?
Here’s a good example of much of the above – all quotes and commas exactly as in the text:
‘Yes, yes,’ Cavendish says, ‘we’ll order up the barge.’
Good, he says, and the cardinal says, Putney? and he tries to laugh. He says, well, Thomas, you told Gascoigne, you did; there’s something about that man I never have liked, and he says, why did you keep him them? and the cardinal says, oh, well, ones does, and again the cardinal says, Putney, eh?
He says, ‘Whatever we face at journey’s end…’
After a short while you begin to realise that ‘he’ is often Cromwell… except on the myriad occasions when it’s not!
It won the Booker Prize. So who am I to complain? But I think I have a right to complain. I’m not saying an author should bow to the demands of all readers. Yes, there are literary conceits one uses for affect – but when you end up having to re-read whole paragraphs 3 times just for understanding, then the author needs to remove their head from their literary anus!
This book is the most annoying piece of shite I have ever read. I am angry! I am soooo angry! You can tell can’t you?! I am absolutely livid. Where the fuck was the editor? Asleep? I want to throw the thing against the wall and be done with it…but here’s the thing, I don’t want to give up. I don’t want the book to beat me! I want to finish the fucker. I don’t want to lose, so I plod along – wading through those thick treacle like pages of utter confusion – cursing under my breath, and threatening to bury the thing in the garden.
I want to grab a wooden stake and slam it through the books heart and scream: “Do you want me to read you or not? What are you for but reading? So make yourself readable!”
And what about literary prizes? I’m beginning to think that these prizes; such as the Booker, are mainly rewarded on the basis of how ‘intellectual’ and ‘cleverly written’ a book is – as opposed to its readability.
A lot of the judges – and the authors that win these prizes – I suspect, have their heads firmly stuck up their literary arses. “Poo-poo” they say to the reader at their literary fetes. “Who cares about the reader. That’s so douche and bygone” they mumble to each other – thinking themselves clever and drunk on their artistic conceits.
I don’t want to give up on this book – yet I hate reading the accursed thing!
How utterly stupid and thick is that?