Sunday, 22 May 2011

Book Review 4: In a Dark Wood Wandering

Book Title: In A Dark Wood Wandering
Author: Hella S. Haasse
Price: P349.00 (Books For Less; Book cover in bad condition)
Genre: Historical Fiction/Angst
Number of Pages:  574
Personal Rating: 8/10 
Reading Difficulty: VERY difficult 

Book Summary (back page):

The novel's larger-than-life characters move across a panoramic tapestry woven together by criss-crossed bloodlines and intense rivalries. There is the mad king Charles VI and his heartless Bavarian wife Isabeau; the King's dashing brother Louis, Duke of Orleans; his sensitive Italian Duchess, Valentine, and their son Charles, who inherits a ferocious feud with the powerful and scheming Duke of Burgundy. There are also Louis' bastard son Dunois-- the fruit of his seduction of the beautiful wife of a courtier-- who becomes the right arm of Joan of Arc, and th English Kings; Henry IV, and Henry V, the brilliant architect of the English army who changes the face of war at the battle of Agincourt.

Hella Haase frees these characters and many more from the dust of centuries. She shows us that their lives were a delicate balance of splendor and misery and makes us feel their passions, sorrows and joys. In a Dark Wood Wandering is an important and classic work that, through its exceptional evocative and suggestive power, brings an entire age to life. 

Personal Insights:

I read this book upon the recommendation of my cousin. She insisted that I read this because it is one of her favorite historical books. When she mentioned  that it was a novel about the medieval period, I immediately sat down and started reading it. After 1 hour, I was bothered. I feel like there's not much happening yet and then I noticed that I barely made it to 40 pages; THAT's how difficult the text of this book is. Normally, I can read up to 100- 150 pages of a normal book (meaning medium reading difficulty) in one hour, but this completely threw me off guard! I was reminded of how I struggled to comprehend the contents of Oscar Wilde's "The Picture of Dorian Gray" back when I was in grade 6! The difficulty of that book is the same as this book, but the difference is that this is around 7x longer than that! Imagine reading a book that is 574 pages with words that would really compel you to take a peek at a dictionary! 

After reading it straight (except for the daily rituals like eating, sleeping, etc.) for 3 days and a half, I finally finished it. I love the way it was written, but I wasn't completely taken with this book. There's just something lacking. Don't get me wrong, because it is an excellent book! It was well- written  and the character's witty bantering really got me hooked. The description of the places and events were also noteworthy. The characterization was not excellent, but it was still good since it was able to get a lot of reaction from me: I was able to completely empathize with Valentine's plight while I also started to hate Burgundy and Isabeau because of their cynicism and ambition. There were even times that I'd put this book down just to complain loudly about the turn of events! With all of these good things mentioned, what's the thing that's lacking? 

The thing that's lacking is probably the 'excitement' factor; there's hardly anything. I don't mean to say that there's nothing exciting, but these climactic parts are not evenly spaced so that I got bored anticipating for it. Also, their lives are kind of boring; well, compared to the other royals like the Tudors. Imagine, there's a whole chapter (around 200 or so pages) dedicated to describing what Charles did during his 25 years of exile. I'm telling you, it's not much, just boring day- to- day negotiations...  See, there's hardly anything exciting and it's not even given enough emphasis so I kind of did not notice it anymore. Also, there's no sense of finality among the characters. For instance, Valentine and Louie died without getting revenge. Isabeau's death is too merciful for her ugly deeds. Charles also was not able to secure anything for his position. Everything's just 'cut- off!

Since this is historical fiction, the author is really limited in terms of pouring her creative juices into the plot, but the author should have taken more liberty in terms of attempting to complete the whole picture. I mean, just look at Philippa Gregory: She wrote about Anne Boleyn in "The Other Boleyn Girl." Though it's a well- known fact that she died since she was convicted as a witch/ sorceress, Philippa Gregory still added some spice to the work such as implying that Anne and George really was in an incestuous relationship so her punishment is only appropriate for her. That's not proven historically, but as the author, Philippa was free to have some liberties on her work. I'm just saying that Haase should have also done something like that; not that the finished product is disappointing. It's just that, it could have been much better still. 

If my expression on the picture below is any indication, I'd have to say that I am fairly content upon finishing this book. Content is the word I used because I did not love it, but I am happy that I got to finish such a difficult reading. It gave me a sense of accomplishment that's for sure! Also, I got to know more about medieval royalty that belongs to the pre- Tudor reign! This is the first historical book that I have read that is not about the Tudors, Marie Antoinette, Bathory, or any Egyptian rulers... Anyway, I do think that the author is a genius, but probably, the line of Charles VI is just really not as interesting as the Tudors.That's probably also one of the thing  lacking... Anyway, would I recommend it? I would say yes, but only to history buffs like myself or those who have time and patience to read this.

Favorite Excerpts:

Things are alloted queerly in this world.-- De Bueil

Je suis celuy au cueur vestu de noir.
I am he whose heart is dressed in black-- Charles d' Orleans

In times of stress, men behave in different wayss: Some seek penance and a sober life; others fall into crime and licentiousness.

Within Maret lay the power of enchantment-- a power which precisely because it was so deeply concealed, was more irresistible than any beauty, grace and form.

This (religion) is the only comfort the world offers Charles. Do not forget that when grief overwhelms you, remember what I say to you now: Life is long awaiting of God's peace.

I have never been cruel or vindictive, God knows that. But now I have learnt too well what fate awaits the meek. Strike before you are struck... Rememberthat: Revenge, satisfaction. I can never give you a wiser maxim than that. -- Valentine d' Orleans to her son Charles

Happiness could not endure, it was as fine as a mist, as intangible as a shadow.

Everywhere in the vanguard, the lords were granting forgiveness to one another. Some even went as far as to embrace each other, The English stood astounded by the spectacle. 

Paix est un tresor qu'on ne puet trop louer. 
Pease is a treasure which cannot be praised too highly. -- Charles d' Orleans

One's true character becomes apparent under adversity.

I believe that our blood is not governed by wind and cold or loneliness, but rather by the strength of our emotions.

Tears and mourning are useless; we shall all die; late or soon. No man can keep forever the whole treasure of worldly bliss.

If we fight gallantly, God will surely give us the victory. If we remain united and sin neither by word nor by deed against God's commandments, He will help us. We shall not receive the victory as a gift; we shall have to sacrifice blood and sweat for it, Bastart. -- Jean of Arc

"Mort de ma Foi! She can talk!"-- La Hire 

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