How 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?