Abandoning Wolf Hall

Do you ever give up on a book that you start? I used to never, ever. I would plow my way through until the bitter end, even if I was bored to tears not engaged, and I would derive some feeling of satisfaction that I had finished that darned book; that I had not been defeated. I would devote the hours it would take to finish it, even if I ended up skipping over passages here and there, and even if the entire meaning didn’t sink in because of my lazy reading of the text.

Of course, that was in the time before I had kids, and before my time was spread as thin as it is now. Now reading time is luxury time and I value this time more than I ever did in the past. This means that over the last few years, I have come to terms with the idea of not finishing a book occasionally, though I will still only abandon the book if it is really dragging me down. Even if it’s just all right, I will keep going.

The book I have just abandoned is Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel, and it won the 2009 Man Booker Prize for fiction. It is a critically acclaimed book. Other smart people I know liked this book (Hi Mom! Hi Laurie! Hi Melissa!), but I just cannot get through it. I have no idea what was in the last 50 pages that I read, and I have no interest in taking the time to go back to try to figure it out. I mean no criticism to the author or the book, but this one is just not for me.

A synopsis from Wikipedia:

Set in the 1520s and 1530s, Wolf Hall is a fictionalised biography concerning the rapid rise to power of Thomas Cromwell, 1st Earl of Essex in the court of Henry VIII of England. Born to a lower-class family of no position or name, Cromwell first became the right-hand of Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, and then, after Wolsey’s fall from grace, the chief minister to Henry VIII. In that role, he oversaw the break with Rome, the dissolution of the monasteries, and Henry’s marriage to Anne Boleyn. He was widely hated in his lifetime, and historical and literary accounts in the subsequent centuries have not been kind to Cromwell; in Robert Bolt’s A Man for All Seasons, for example, he is portrayed as the calculating, unprincipled opposite of Thomas More’s honour and rectitude.

It sounds good, doesn’t it? Those of you who like The Tudors (which I have never watched) may love this book.

Now don’t get me wrong when I say this because I like a good bathtub book as much as the next gal, but I’m no slouch when it comes to reading. I have read and loved other Booker-winning novels, and I often look up this link http://www.themanbookerprize.com/prize/archive before heading to the library. I should be smart enough to like this book, but in this case, I’m not.

So I feel kind of guilty and dumb that I won’t be finishing Wolf Hall. However, I am going to forgive myself and let this go, because seriously, I have a lot of other things to do. My decision became final when I realized that I had not done any reading in two whole weeks, which is unheard of for me. I just never felt like picking this one up when I had some time to spare.

So, now that I have that off my chest, on to the next book. It’s either going to be Freedom by Jonathan Franzen, or White Teeth by Zadie Smith. I have read both of these authors before, and I’m quite sure that I can make it to the end of both of these…even if it kills me.

About Finola

I am an Ottawa area Mom, writer-want-to-be and coffee legend in the making.
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15 Responses to Abandoning Wolf Hall

  1. Mary Lynn says:

    Ooooh! I loved White Teeth. So much fun!

    I never used to give up on books before, either, but now I do. Too many books out there to read to put up with bad ones.

  2. I got this book last Christmas and have not been able to read more than a few pages. My husband started it, too, and loves all things historical, but he abandoned it, too, so don't feel bad. I still do want to read it at some point; it just requires a lot of effort. It's not an easy book, though with the great material, you'd think it would be easy. Anyway, I vote for Franzen for the Maladjusted Book Club! (White Teeth is great, but not AS great. I like On Beauty better.)

  3. Nat says:

    I feel no compunction to finish books… I think I spent too much time struggling through god awful stuff in school.

    Life is too short to be reading things you don't enjoy.

  4. zoom says:

    There used to be a nasty librarian (Mrs. Stevenson) at my elementary school who “accused” me of not finishing all the books I borrowed from her library. It was true – I would take out maybe eight books a week, and finish reading the ones that drew me in. It never occurred to me that I might have some moral obligation to finish them all until she accused me of not doing so. After that I tried hard to finish every book, no matter how tedious it was. I still give it a good shot, but I do abandon the odd unreadable book. (Like you, though, I'll finish reading a book that's just okay.)

  5. JuliaR says:

    Ha! That's good, Zoom: “a moral obligation”.

    Sometimes, the Emperor really has no clothes.

  6. Alison says:

    I also am DRIVEN to finish even books I don't enjoy. I have over the years compromised (so that I can stop avoiding readin) to just putting books I'm having trouble slogging through on “hold”. As such, sitting patiently on my beside table with a book mark in them waiting for me to get back to them someday, are Margaret Visser's Much Depends on Dinner, Juan Eslava Galan's The Mule, and Fitzgerald's Tender is the Night (which has been there sending me guilt for years!) The only book I've EVER abandoned entirely was one called the Swarm by Frank Schatzing. A sci-fi book my husband absolutely LOVED and couldn't put down (and he's typically got good taste in literature, albeit biased towards sci-fi). I got about 50 pages in, and just couldn't make myself like ANY of the characters, and couldn't care less if they got eaten by whatever it was that was swarming. He couldn't beleive it that me, the famous MUST FINISH EVERY BOOK EVEN IF IT KILLS ME person couldn't drag myself though that one. It was actually very liberating to remove the book mark and put it back on the shelf unread. Congratulations for being able to let go of Wolf Hall. Maybe I should officially give up on Tender is the Night (I really don't care what happens to Mrs Diver) 🙂

  7. Sara says:

    Your time is valuable…put the book down 😉 I never would have even picked it up so good for you. I feel a pressure now to read 'difficult intelligent' books. I don't but the pressure is there. I love my e-book because no one can see what I'm really reading!

  8. Agree with Sara. Used to read everything, but don't want to bother anymore. If it doesn't grab you, there's lots of others that will.

    I liked Wolf Hall myself, but didn't love it like I expected I would. It was a bit of a slog at times, and I love historicals.

  9. Finola says:

    Mary Lynn, I'm looking forward to reading White Teeth then.

    Jana, You made me feel so much better that you and your husband had a hard time too. I may come back to it one day, but for now I'm leaving it alone.

    Nat, I agree. I just don't have time for this one. It's a bit of a brick too.

    Zoom, It seems you had the right attitude, I wonder why the librarian was so concerned? She should have been happy to see a kid so interested in taking out books.

    Julie, I agree, that's a great term!

    Alison, I loved your comment. Thanks! It is hard to walk away from a book, but as busy people, it can be very freeing!

    Sara, I love my Kobo! Which e-reader do you have?

    Denise, I think I may try this book another time but just not right now. My attention span is just way too short these days.

  10. Laura says:

    I miss being in a book club only because it forced me to read a book, even if it didn't grab me. Now I give a book 10 chapters…if I'm bored to tears, I move on.

  11. laurie says:

    Well, as you know from Facebook, I LOVED Wolf Hall but admit that it was a slog. OTOH – I abandoned Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections more than half way through because it was so relentlessly miserable.
    Sometimes, I think it's necessary to walk away from even those books that are supposed to be good for us. And you know what else? I think it's really good for the soul to read so-called trashy books when they make us happy.

  12. Sid. says:

    My advice: skip ahead on your list to read Outlander. It's a wonderfully-entertaining easy escapist read. Hands-down it's one of my favourite historical fictions ever.

  13. I give up on books all the time now. I never used to either. But if it doesn't grab me quick, I just put it aside. And often at another point — could be years from now! — I'll pick it up again and it will grab me then. You should see my bedside table, it could seriously injure me with the height of stacked books I haven't made it through! 🙂

  14. Karin says:

    White Teeth is a great read. Anything by Zadie Smith is tops in my book. Enjoy.

  15. I love that you've been thinking about this same issue. I especially appreciate your point about the time constraints that come with motherhood. I love to read and wonder why I insist on forcing myself through bad books even though I should think of my reading time as a treat, not a chore.

    As for Wolf Hall: I am a big history buff so I've been tempted by it, but I've heard mixed reviews. Obviously the Booker committee loved it, but several friends of mine found it difficult to get through. I guess I won't be moving it to the top of the pile anytime soon. 🙂

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