Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Big read

One of the activities I let go when I took on more responsibility for Mum’s care was book group. More than that, I stopped reading altogether, having little brain power left at the end of the day. Every effort is being made to get to at least a couple of the meetings this year and even to read off list books.

Our book for discussion on 2 February is last year’s Booker Prize winner, Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel. I was excited as the prospect of reading it as I’d enjoyed this author before and I once was a Booker junkie, reading as many of the short list as I could before the big announcement. I was excited until I saw the size of the book – 651 pages. Seriously? 651 pages? You really need 651 pages?

Mantel’s hero is Thomas Cromwell, who is often portrayed as Henry VIII’s Machiavellian henchman responsible for the reforms that led to the formation of the Church of England. Here he is a self-made man of intellect, ability and passion. Entirely human and entirely sympathetic.

I’m still not quite over resenting the 651 non-skimmable pages, but I am yet to see where the editing could be done to make it shorter. The prose is dense and intense but it is not wasteful. Some passages need to be re-read to gain a complete understanding, and the family tree and cast of characters at the front of the book is necessary, even if you have an average or better acquaintance with Tudor history.

There are still a 250 pages left to be read and I’m thoroughly enjoying the journey. This is slow reading at its best. Knitting to accompany such a demanding (but completely enjoyable) read is necessarily simple. Adult and baby socks have been knitted to it and just now a garter stitch baby blanket. Complicated knitting and this book do not mix.

Normally I would recommend borrowing a copy from your public library but this time, Canberrans, if you can buy or borrow a privately owned copy do so. The ACT Public Library has 32 copies and as of this morning 143 requests on them. This means the loan period is reduced to two weeks and trying to get through this in two weeks is impossible unless you have those two weeks to lie in the shade and read.  Although it does wonders for the concentration to have such a deadline.

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