I tried to read Frank Herbert’s Dune so many times. So many times. I always got about thirty or forty pages in and just kind of fell away.
I’m on page 207.
This is a fairly major victory for me. I can’t really recall why I never got this far before. I was always attracted to the fiction and I have been pointed in the direction of the novel again and again by people with similar tastes to my own. Reading through the first two hundred pages though, I think I can hazard a few guesses.
The book is slow. Very, very slow. This is by no means a bad thing, but I think it was a large part of what put me off for so long. You’re effectively thrown in to the middle of a plot with massive amounts of back story, much of which is inferred and the rest left to your imagination. This is actually pretty cool. It shows a huge amount of respect for the reader. Ultimately though, my interest has held this time because I’m completely fascinated by the feudal houses in space angle more than anything else. I am intensely curious about the various inter-galactic conspiracies and serpentine politics, but I’m holding on purely because the whole idea of space duels and poison intertwined with futuristic technology is really compelling.
I don’t like Paul Atreides. I can’t stand him. I get that he’s only a teenager, but his sudden prescience (at the point that I am at in the book) makes him even more frustrating. He’s incredibly obnoxious. I’m saddled with a protagonist I can’t stand surrounded by characters that I find absolutely riveting. Kynes in particular, and to a lesser extent the Baron Harkonnen, grip me completely on every page. Then I’m back to Paul Atreides meditating on the fact that he is the messiah.
The constant interior monologue of every single character in the book is almost comical.
“Good morning” said Paul. He thought of all the things that this morning could have brought, and looked at his mother with a sense of despair and unfiltered antipathy.
“What do you want for breakfast?” Jessica asked. She thought of all the times this question must have been asked throughout the millennia across the galaxy. But here was Paul, asking this question now! What if he was to ask for Cheerios?
“Cheerios” said Paul. His mind turned to thoughts of the future turned back on itself and the notion of the milk’s sell-by date, so inconsequential in the meaning of life.
“Okay” said Jessica. Ah! The boy’s mind is keen!
Thing is, I have grown to absolutely love this feature in the text. It’s astonishing that Herbert has thought through every facet of each of his characters. The personalities are so well thought out and so believable that the inner monologues add hugely to the story. If Herbert had in any way undercooked his characters or taken some shortcut, the book would be unreadable. However, the book is utterly fascinating. Early in the novel, the reader is flat out told the mechanics of an upcoming and extremely important plot twist, but the majority of the characters have no idea what is coming. The fact that Herbert pulls this off so well is phenomenal. Being dropped in the middle of this massive universe, at first hugely disorienting, has presented me with a driving motive to push on with this book, and no doubt fire through the sequels as fast as I can. I want to learn more about this galaxy and the imperial seat and the source of all this intrigue, and the eventual results.
I still find Paul Atreides really annoying.