Author: Nicola Griffith
Date Started: May 7, 2014 Date Finished: unfinished
Rating (out of 5): \
Every book has a story: I read some excellent reviews of Hild shortly after it was released in November. With its historical angle and a so-touted strong and spirited protagonist, I didn’t think twice about adding it to my Christmas list. It’s a beautiful hardcover book, and I shlepped it around with me for weeks before it went back to the bookshelf…
The child’s world changed late one afternoon, though she didn’t know it.
Hild sets out to tell the story of the girl who will become Saint Hild of Whitby, an early Christian saint of early Christian Britain. It is set in the seventh century, a time when Britain was divided into several small kingdoms and when cultural and religious allegiances were varied between ancient British paganism, the Saxon pantheon, and this new Christianity brought from Rome, long after Britain has freed itself from the hold of the Roman Empire.
So far, so good, right?
The books begins when Hild is a young child, in third person, but limited to her point of view. Given this case, I can accept the fact that Hild is confused about what goes on around her, especially as the politics of it grow more and more complicated. Still, it’s a hard place to be as a reader who is not terribly familiar with the daily goings-on of the seventh century. I wanted to understand the big picture, but I couldn’t, and with young and confused Hild as my guide, I found the beginning of the book quite hard to follow.
I also found it very difficult to keep straight the minor characters such as other kings and princes, who do not have a lot of page time themselves, but are sometimes mentioned. I can also understand the virtue of keeping the spellings of the names as-is, whether they be Saxon or Gaelic or British. But since the pronunciation of these names is deeply rooted in each language itself, I found myself frequently flipping to the language guide at the back (which, while thorough, was not a good quick reference guide) to help me. I had to do this so frequently that it was quite a disservice to the immersive reading experience.
And, at the very base of it, I also found Nicola Griffith’s writing style quite unfamiliar and hard to parse sometimes. Again, not always so good for getting swept up in a story when you have to read a paragraph five times to try to understand where it’s going. I’m not saying that books that are this rigorous and demanding are bad. It’s just that my personal preference is to get into plot and character rather than having to stop and examine nearly every brick of a sentence the story is built on.
It makes it hard to convince yourself to continue on in a book called Hild when you find yourself completely uninvested in the character named Hild. I didn’t find any other character endearing enough to latch onto either.
So, at page 350, I finally put Hild down for good. To be completely honest, I could have put it down at page 50, because I felt exactly the same at the point as I would 300 pages later. I will say of it what I always try to say of most books I don’t enjoy: it just wasn’t the right time for me and Hild. Maybe if I could dedicate a few days to reading it and not have to refamiliarize myself with everything each time I opened it again, I would have found it easier to follow. I don’t choose the books I read very lightly, so I’m never happy to have to return one to the shelves uncompleted.
I know the common philosophy among die-hard readers is to always finish a book, but I broke away from that idea quite some time ago. There are so many books to read – just among the books I own, let alone all the books in the world – that I just can’t bear to sit through something I’m not enjoying, knowing that I could be reading something else I’m actually excited about.
So, back Hild goes to sit among the other hardcovers. Maybe some other day will be better for us, but I don’t think it will be sometime soon.