Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Joint Musings: In a Dark Wood Wandering

In a Dark Wood Wandering
I have had Hella Haasse's In a Dark Wood Wandering sitting on my shelf for over five years, but never brought myself to pick it up.  Somehow, a few months ago, Heather from Capricious Reader and I started talking about the book and how neither of us had ever seen any reviews of it on any of the blogs we followed, which we thought strange.  So in the interest of helping blogosphere discover the work, we decided to do a buddy read of it.  And then everyone would learn the glory of Haasse's fabulous work!

Unfortunately, though, neither of us thought the work fabulous or got much past the halfway point of the book.  So gone are our grandiose plans of sharing this wonder with you, but in case the below description intrigues you enough to give this book a try, the second half of our discussion on the book is here.  The first half is on Heather's blog.

In a Dark Wood Wandering is set in 14th and 15th century France and England, centering on Charles d'Orleans, the nephew of the mad French king.  Charles enters the frightening world of French political intrigue at a young age, after both his parents die and leave him to defend his claims to his rightful inheritance.  But France is at war with itself and Charles must navigate his life through alliances and debts that he can barely understand.  Charles d'Orleans was a real person, and is considered one of France's greatest poets.  However, I didn't get far enough in the book to actually read the poetry!

Aarti:  You’re so right!  The only character I felt any real empathy for was the king, mostly because the poor man was locked up and ignored all the time, and then had horribly vague memories of that in his brief moments of sanity.  I felt so bad for him.  And, generally, I felt bad for the townspeople who kept having to pay really high taxes to people who were acting so selfishly all the time.  It’s amazing the sense of entitlement people had in this book- as if they were owed something and they were going to get it, regardless of how much they decimated their own country.  

I don’t know what it is about small font, but I always approach small-print books with dread.  It is similar to my dread of massive books, though generally if I become invested enough in a story, I don’t care how long it is, as long as I am kept engaged.  But mentally, it’s hard for me to read a book with small print without feeling like I am reading a textbook.  Also, if I ever take my eyes away for the book for a moment, it is harder for me to find my place, which often results in me reading the same paragraph ten times, or completely missing a very crucial page and getting confused.  And that’s exactly what happened with this book- PURE CONFUSION.

I don’t know if I would enjoy the book more if it were in a time period I felt comfortable in, either.  I am going to agree with you and say no because I am fairly certain it was the writing style that turned me off.  I just didn’t like the way we were given such minute detail on character traits but were expected to know all the background for historical events.  I couldn’t develop a rhythm to read, and as I was reading on a very haphazard schedule, that really impeded my enjoying the book.  It was hard enough to try to remember the story after a week away from the book, but then to also have to concentrate so hard just to follow the words was impossible!

Heather: You know, I think if she had stayed with the king more, in the story, I would have liked it more. This book just needed a really good edit. A really, really good one.

Chunky books definitely scare me. If they have tiny font, they terrify me. And I agree, massive books are scary, but if they draw me in, and keep me engaged, it’s fantastic. Some of my most favorite books are huge! This book did not keep me engaged, in fact, I’m pretty sure my eyes glazed over quite a few times. It’s the type of book I would have to take detailed notes on if I was to finish it and hello! I’m not in college any more. Don’t really want to be doing that.

It sounds like we have similar thoughts on what we want to read. We need to try another book soon!


  1. I definitely can see why you decided against finishing this book. All the details that meant absolutely nothing, when the history was basically ignored would have really irritated me. And like I said on Heather's blog, I also have a problem with tiny typeface. You make a good point about small typeface making a book feel like a textbook, and since I have been out of college for a long time, that's the last thing I want to be reading. Thanks for deciding to share your thoughts on the book with us even though you didn't finish it. Now I know not to be tempted by the prospect of reading it.

  2. Chunky books don't scare me (Having read Anna Karenina, Wolf Hall and The Lacuna in the past five months, that's probably just as well!) but tiny typeface does deter me. And this book doesn't sound like one I'd enjoy reading.

  3. Oh no! Tiny text! Do not even mention that anywhere, so dislike that.

    Anyway, chunky books, some are good, and some are not breaking your fingers for

  4. It's too bad this one didn't live up to expectations, but I guess it explains why there aren't many reviews of it around the blogosphere. :) Thanks for taking this one on so the rest of us didn't have to!

  5. Anonymous4/07/2011

    But it has a pretty cover. You could just totally objectify it, and keep it around for its looks. :-D

  6. Anonymous4/12/2011

    I am reading this, or have been, for a month or so. I agree, it is slow. And too much detail. And not enough historical information. I wonder if I'll ever finish. My Dutch edition is 700+ pages in small font, I was surprised that Goodreads only gave 500+ pages to yours. So I wonder if the translator edited parts?

  7. Zibilee- Haha, yes, I think we probably did a good job of clearing people off, but I think it just wasn't the book we expected.

    Tracy- Yes, tiny typeface is a reason I have yet to pick up Dorothy Dunnett's King Hereafter!

    Blodeuedd- Looks like the typeface bothers everyone!

    Alyce- That could very well explain it! Good point.

    softdrink- Oh, I probably will. I enjoy things of beauty ;-)

    Iris- I know exactly what you mean! I don't know why mine is shorter. Maybe it's a bigger size? It's not a mass-market, it's a bigger trade paperback. With tiny font. Hmmm...


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