I recently finished a 536-page book—“Hild” by Nicola Griffith—that I’d been struggling through since the middle of the summer. I kept reading it, despite the fact that it was confusing and sometimes boring, because I liked the author’s writing style. Although the book was arguably heavy on adjectives and similes (I think at least a hundred pages could have been eliminated if Griffith had edited out some superfluous embellishments), I appreciated the “prettiness” of the sentences. A typical description called the moon as “bright and white as polished chalk.”
The story was intriguing. I might have appreciated it more if I could have kept track of the many characters with names like Osric, Oswine, and Osfrith. It takes place in 7th century Britain and is about a real person, Hild, who would grow up to be Saint Hilda of Whitby. She is so insightful that her knowledge seems otherworldly, and she becomes the king’s seer.
Easily the most fascinating part was the way the author creates the character of a young girl who juggled the fates of great men.
But about three-fourths of the way through, when Hild is a teenager, the focus of the book shifts dramatically (spoiler alert). At first, I thought her relationship with her brother was a bit unusual. I was a little freaked out when they started kissing. Then I was surprised at the author’s boldness in writing about an affair between a Catholic saint and her female slave. By the end of the book, when Hild marries her brother, I didn’t know what to think anymore.
I don’t have a problem with authors writing about subjects that are considered taboo. In fact, I think that without uncomfortable subjects, most books would be colorless and dull. But I have to say that I was disappointed when a book that appeared to be about psychological mind games turned very suddenly into a sequence of unnecessarily descriptive sex scenes.
At first I accepted that Griffith was trying to express the confusion of growing into adulthood and dealing with sexuality. But after a while, I began to think she was just trying to appeal to an audience that wanted sex.
I don’t like it when I don’t understand the point of a book, and “Hild” frustrated me more the closer I got to its unsatisfying ending. Maybe I was missing something—a lot of the reviews are glowing—but I cannot reconcile the complex, sometimes tedious (but always thoughtful) beginning of the book with the pornographic ending that seemed disconnected from the rest of the plot.
“Hild” may have some profound meaning that I’m completely missing. The impression that it left me with, however, was that Griffith was trying to shock people just to be shocking. Maybe art like that has its place. But it bores me to death.