Saturday, April 22, 2006

Breaking Up is Hard to Do

I spent too long on a book that didn't work out. Lots of metaphors come to mind but I'll spare you.

I'm a fan of Elizabeth Chadwick's early historical fiction. By early I mean her first 7 or 8 books, which explore themes of love and duty and the limitations imposed by one's circumstances. Her books are usually set in medieval times: the Norman conquest is a favorite era (and her book The Conquest is a favorite, and one of the few books that I periodically re-read). She writes lovely prose, and creates memorable love stories while remaining historically accurate, or at least realistic.

But lately she's departed from straight fiction, and is now writing novels that are based on real characters. She researches an actual historical figure and writes a novel based on the real events of that person's life. This is an accepted practice, I know, and often it works very well and makes for a better read than a straight biography. Phillipa Gregory is doing this with the Tudors, for example, with pretty good success.

But Chadwick's attempts aren't working for me. Her last few books have been based on characters whose lives, at a certain point, became not so interesting or pleasant. By forcing herself to follow the actual events as they happened, she denies herself the chance to write a really good story, and instead has to slog through a story line, that if it were purely fiction, an editor would say "can't you spice this up a bit, and leave all this dull stuff out?" I am reminded of the saying "why let a few facts get in the way of a good story?" and I want to say this to her. I know she can write a good story, but she's not doing it in these books.

The book I abandoned was called The Falcons of Montabard. I abandoned another of her books last year, The Winter Mantle. Her last really good book was The Marsh King's Daughter, written in 1999 (a book that is purely fiction). So if you are reading her, stop with that one. It's very frustrating to invest a week on a book then feel like you can't even finish it, it's so dull.

Though lest you think I've really been reading this book attentively for a week, let me clarify: I've spent the past week NOT reading this book, that is, reading ANYTHING but this book. The New York Times magazine, The Onion, Budget Travel magazine, etc. I always know it's time to abandon my current book when I keep picking up magazines instead.


Post a Comment