I've finished Wolf Hall. Yey! Whoop! Relief.
It was a far longer investment than I expected at the outset. Back in June. And while I am now free to tuck into the pile of novels on the bedside table I have already broken off to read Stig of the Dump, Treasure Island and Wallace Stevens' Harmonium - all these with only 100 pages of Cromwell's activities to go, because I just needed some fresh air.
Not that I didn't enjoy Wolf Hall. It was an intense experience, a delight to hang out with Thomas Cromwell's intelligence, and the scheming of Henry's court. But it was a little like eating a very thick, ery long piece of flapjack, made with molasses. I could only very small chunks at a time, which made the flapjack stickier over time.
So in the past fornight I've gobbled one of the latest Nightjar Press pamphlets and three novels: A Cure for Solitude, Now in November and Whisper my Name. Giddy. All these came to me from various sources and high recommendations. And all so different from each other: an intense eco-gothic thriller (a new genre, I wonder?); a drug smuggling thriller set in Prague, that despite some clunky writing was unputdownable; a Pulitzer Prize winner set on a farm in the American Depression of the 30s - drought drought drought, with equally pared language: "the heat was like a hand in my face, day and night"; a Victorian drama/mystery marketed for young readers that had me eating out of the palm of its hand.
So on reflection of all these it would seem I've rediscovered my love of books for 'younger readers'. Their appeal, I think, lies in the basic skill of telling a fabulous story, straightforwardly. No tricks or narrative gimmicks that jump out at me and get me involved in the function of devices. I also think all these books have clear, strong characters, that stand above the plot, that I empathise with: either their youthful confident derring-do (of Jim Hawkins), their confusion at the world (the grubby Stig), or their rather innocent selfishness (of the Victorian Meriel). All of these traits I can relate to, grimly accept and smile about as an adult that I probably didn't even recognise I had as a teenager.
I'm hungry for more. Any suggestions?