This took me a while to get through, partly because it was a library loaner and I kept losing the renewal, forcing me to go read something else until whoever reserved it realised what they had and returned it (usually only a couple of days).
The other reason is because this is a monster. The paperback runs nearly a thousand pages, while the audiobook is about 43 hours long. So it takes some commitment to finish it.
What kept me going was a vague hope that, at some point, some action was going to appear. It didn’t, and in fact the story finished like a damp squib. I was hoping for some big comeuppance, some grand payoff. Neither was delivered.
Stephenson’s research was obviously detailed, with a thorough look at code breaking during the WWII, the Nazi’s secret gold shipments and diversionary tactics employed by the secret services. Some of the impact may have been lost as these revelations have subsequently found their way into the mainstream (certainly the role of places like Bletchley Park).
That does give us endless hours of tedium though. Listening to someone read out lines of code for several minutes is no fun. Stephenson is known for the technical detail, so his audience may lap up the dives into number theory, but they don’t add much to the plot.
Neither do the long passages explaining how the protagonist prepares and eats his breakfast cereal, the endless discourse on how masturbation is required to relieve tension for a clearer mind and lustful contemplation about various objects of affection. None help move the story forward. All could have been dropped or shortened to help speed it up and reduce the word count.
There’s also some language that, I assume, was designed to fit in with the times, but is offensive to modern sensibilities.
There are also some well-rounded characters though, who are engaging and witty. I’m not sure I’d go so far as to call them realistic, but they’re more than cardboard cut-outs, mostly. It’s also a heroic WWII book that shows how those other than front-line troops helped the effort.
It’s an interesting enough story, I can see why the critics liked it, but you feel that all the cool stuff is going on below the surface and we never break through to it. Which left me a bit frustrated.