Saturday, 25 June 2011

Cast Lists

For the Historical Fiction class I'll be taking next semester, I've been reading "Wolf Hall" by Hilary Mantel. It won the 2009 Man Booker Prize, but I'm not really enjoying it so far. I'm finding it pretty difficult to get through, especially since the main character is never referred to by name in the narrative. He's only ever called "he", which is a problem when he's having a conversation with another man. I haven't got a clue what's going on.

But that's not what this blog post is supposed to be about, though it is related. In a way. "Wolf Hall" starts with a contents page, which I personally think is pretty unnecessary. It annoyed me in the Twilight books, when it was completely unnecessary, and I have yet to see whether it serves a purpose here.

After the contents page, however, there is a list of characters. A cast list, if you like. And just seeing it filled me with dread. A cast list makes sense in a play, where you don't have a narrative that can fill you in on the details of the cast. "Wolf Hall" is a 650-page novel. It shouldn't need a cast list, because all of this information should be told/shown to me in the main body of the novel. Having a cast list says a lot. It warns me that the book is not going to be well-written enough to give me this information as it should, and that I will probably need to keep referring back to the list to find out who all these people are, which should also be shown in the text.

It got me thinking because a cast list isn't something you often see in a novel. In fact, I didn't think I'd ever seen one, and I assumed that this meant "Wolf Hall" would be a rubbish book because it needed something that no other book did. I'm not saying this is the case, because I can't really say that until I've finished it. But then I remembered another series of books with a cast list. A series of books that I actually love.

Every instalment in the "Pure Dead" series by Debi Gliori, beginning with "Pure Dead Magic" and ending with "Deep Fear", features a cast list at the very beginning. And a contents page. I actually liked this feature in the series, which is aimed at children/young teenagers, especially since the "Dramatis Personae" is actually quite funny. It works. It doesn't make the book seem poorly written, it adds something to it. With "Wolf Hall", I have to admit that I took it as a bad sign. I'll let you know how it works out. I'm only forty pages into the bloody thing.

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