By Mark Alpert
I love buying books — it’s my only discretionary expense these days — but I’m picky about it. Before I purchase anything, I read the reviews in the Timesand the New Yorker. I ask friends and fellow writers what they’re reading. And even when a new novel gets raves from everyone, I don’t go running to the bookstore. Sometimes I’ll wait a whole year, till the paperback comes out. This kind of buyer behavior drives me crazy when I’m trying to promote my own novels. Why are you so reluctant, people? Come on, give my books a try! But that’s the crimped, cautious world we live in. We work hard for our money and we don’t want to waste it.
Now I’m at page 200, about a third of the way through the book, and I’m feeling a lot less hungry. I don’t hate the book. I just don’t like it as much as I thought I would. The novel’s hero is Thomas Cromwell, a commoner who becomes an adviser to Henry VIII, and the fellow seems likable enough, full of interesting observations and unafraid to speak his mind. But I’m not really bonding with the guy. I feel like the author is hiding him somewhat, keeping him at a distance from me. Worse, I’m not seeing 16th-century England from his point of view. The place and time haven’t come alive. I’m getting the facts, but not the feeling of being there.
I’m going to keep reading the book. Maybe it’ll get better. I live in hope, that’s my motto. But I can’t get rid of the bitter taste of disappointment. Has anyone else out there felt this way? Not necessarily about Wolf Hall, but about any much-anticipated novel that fell far short of expectations?