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The Responsible Reader: The Mirror & the Light

Hilary Mantel Natalie Conyer

by Natalie Conyer

The Mirror and the Light by Hilary MantelHow soon before you’re allowed to give up on a book?

I’m reading Hilary Mantel’s latest, The Mirror and the Light. It’s the third in her Thomas Cromwell trilogy and I loved the first two so much I pre-ordered this one, probably before she finished writing it.


At nearly a thousand pages, it’s a big read. And it’s detailed. Oh, so detailed. It’s got a cast of thousands, many of whom have titles different from their names. So I keep having to go back to the five-page list of characters to check. And do I really need to know, minute by minute, scene by scene, every single thought going through Cromwell’s head? I feel like the Emperor in Amadeus, telling Mozart his piece has too many notes.

The writing’s spectacular. But it isn’t enough. I want to give up, and I’m only on page 150.

Do I soldier on or do I stop? I know the novel is worthy. Reviewers say it’s a masterpiece. Am I just not up to it? Is it a case of ‘it’s not you, it’s me?’

I know people who plough through whatever they’re reading, no matter how dire; and I know people who abandon books like tissues. A friend has a formula: the older she gets, the less she has to read before she decides she’s had enough. At her age she can shut up shop after ten pages. Trouble is, when I leave a book unfinished, I feel guilty, as if I’ve failed somehow.

I’ll probably keep going, but what would you do?

Do you give yourself permission to leave a book, and how do you feel about it?

Present Tense by Natalie Conyer
The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel
(This is the first in a series of Natalie Conyer's blogs on reading.)

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  • Ken Thornton on

    Your friend may have been following a formula I’ve heard. You subtract your age from 100, so an 18 y.o should give a book 82 pages, a 75 y.o 25 pages before giving up. An editor I know reads until the first editing error, but she’s a hard-arse.

  • Goldie Alexander on

    I know how you feel. I downloaded the first few chapters and already felt overwhelmed. I expect to have to read it eventually because my books club loves ‘Literary novels’ and I’m sure they will ounce on this.
    I quail at the thought

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