Saturday, April 11, 2015

Hild: a very short review

I was, perhaps, the perfect target audience for Nicola Griffith's Hild.

I was fascinated by the subject matter; I love to read historical fiction; I love to be swept away into another world.

I just didn't expect that it would be so much effort to read this book.

Griffith decided to aim for a high level of authenticity, which is wonderful, and is one of the reasons I wanted so much to read Hild. Griffith is thorough in her descriptions, accurate in her dialogue, and detailed in her choice of things like the names of the characters and the vocabulary used to describe the things they are doing in their day to day lives.

And, as this book is set one thousand five hundred years ago, her decision means that there is a considerable amount of distance between the characters, the objects, the events, and the language of that time, and of this one.

But that means you end up with a book which has a Dictionary and a Guide to Pronunciation at the end, and is packed with passages like this:

The high men of the isle gathered to seek favour and pay homage to Edwin and his new queen. Every evening, arriving at the beat of a drum or the ripple of a lyre, a handful of brightly cloaked men, wearing enough gold to dazzle a jay, would swing into the hall and bend their proud heads to the high table. Bryneich from the north, with their short hair, red mouths, and enamelled brooches, under Coledauc king -- who bowed to Hild and gave best wishes from Prince Morcant. The piglet, Hild remembered. Men from Rheged, under Rhoedd the Lesser, Rhoedd's sister-son and little Uinniau's older brother, styling himself prince and bearing gifts from Rhoedd for the king and queen -- and a beautiful double pin inlaid with garnet from the princess Rhianmelldt for the princess Hild. Coelgar, returned from Lindsey, with half a dozen Lindsey thegns at his back and a kinglike bearing. And Dunod, lord of Craven, whom some called king.

Do you see what I mean? It's somehow wonderful and exhausting at the same time.

Eventually you become, if not fluent, at least competent in the language, so when every other sentence talks about a "seax", or a "gesith", or a "wealh", or a "gemaecce", or a "cyrtel", or a "haegtes", or an "aethling", you can start, slowly, to follow the underlying story and events.

But the overall effect, although brilliant, fascinating, and immersive, is also jarring, otherworldly, and uninviting.

Yes, uninviting.

And I so wanted this book to be inviting.

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