When I saw this I rushed to read the reviews without grades, hoping for an ally or two, but my hopes were soon dashed. There don't seem to be any bad reviews in here!
On the other hand, there are 60 1-star reviews at Amazon, and 53 2-star reviews. If you classify the 52 3-star reviews as negative, more people dislike this book than love it (there are 150 5-star reviews). And yet, all the reviewers adore this book. Could it be that I've fallen in with the wrong crowd?!
To make things even worse, the things I hate about this book are either outright denied or positively acclaimed by the smart reviewers. For example, I see this book is austere to an extreme. Personally, when I go to the 16th century, I want to know what things look like, smell like, sound like. If a person goes from point A to point B, I actually want to know how they got there. By boat? Were there horses? Did it rain? We get almost none of that in this novel--it's all thinking and talking. But (nooooo, tell me that it isn't so!) some reviewers praise the book for its descriptive detail!
Then there's the issue of "he", and the way it's not clear whom it refers to half the time. Gradually, after much frustration and confusion, you figure out that ambiguous and confusing instances usually refer to Thomas Cromwell. Me 'n' the other dummies at Amazon think this is just stupid and annoying, but the smart people actually think it's deliberate and brilliant! How so? The way all "he"s point to Cromwell puts him at the center of the book in some profound sense. Or: we are seeing things "through a glass darkly." Oh, ok. Now I get it!
But what about the modern language and sensibility that suffuses the book? To me 'n' the Amazon dummies, this is just annoyingly anachronistic. It's the 16th century, for God's sake! Take this passage (and remember, all ambiguous "he"s refer to Thomas Cromwell)--
At some point he must have slept. When daylight came, the moon felt so empty it was empty even of him.The moon felt empty at daylight. It felt empty to Cromwell? In what sense did the moon feel empty? Does it sometimes feel full? And what was it doing still up at daylight anyway? And why does this 16th century man have thoughts that seem to come out of a poem in the New Yorker?
Here's another puzzling paragraph, with (of course!) all the "he"s referring to Cromwell (he's thinking about Lord Chancellor Thomas More writing articles against Cardinal Wolsey).
When he hears this he thinks, imagine living inside the Lord Chancellor's head. Imagine writing down such a charge and taking it to the printer, and circulating it through the court and through the realm, putting it out there to where people will believe anything:putting it out there, to the shepherds on the hills, to Tyndale's plowboy, to the beggar on the roads and the patient beast in its byre or stall; out there to the bitter winter winds, and to the weak early sun, and the snowdrops in the London gardens.If you want to imagine Thomas Cromwell having the stream of consciousness of a modern poet, there's no law against it, but why would you want to?
I seriously hate not finishing a book, but life is short. Next on my list is another hugely lauded book. Uh oh.