Saturday, December 29, 2012

Two Thirds of Cromwell

In 2010, when I finished reading Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel, I said that I liked it, but that if the sequel was out (Mantel was still writing it at that time) I would not rush to the bookstore on the corner to buy it.  Well, things have changed since 2010.  I no longer have a bookstore on the corner, or anywhere within 5 miles of my house.  Sigh.  And Mantel's sequel, Bring Up the Bodies, is not only out, it is a Man Booker Prize winner, like its predecessor, and a NYT Notable Book.  Mantel is the first woman to win the Man Booker Prize twice, and it is especially impressive that the wins are for two successive parts of a trilogy.  Expectations are high for the final volume, and I am sure that Mantel will not disappoint.

Mantel's trilogy tells the story of Henry VIII and his marriages through the eyes of Thomas Cromwell.  Cromwell was officially one of Henry's chief advisers, holding various titles of increasing importance.  In actuality, he was sort of an evil puppet master, coming up with ways of doing whatever it was that Henry wanted.  To say that Henry VIII was mercurial is a huge understatement.  He wanted what he wanted, when he wanted it, and until he didn't want it anymore.  Unfortunately for England, this spoiled child of a king, with the help of Cromwell, had the ability to change the laws to suit his needs, and to order the deaths of anyone who got in his way.

Want to know how immature Henry VIII was?  Here is a picture of his suit of armor that I took when I visited the Tower of London a few years ago. 

Yep, that is what you think it is, coming out of his mid-section.  One would think that this suit was designed by an optimistic 12 year old boy rather than by a reigning king.

After reading Bring Up the Bodies, I would suggest that a person should not try to read it without having read Wolf Hall first.  And I take back my earlier words.  If you can start reading Bring Up the Bodies as soon as you finish Wolf Hall, you absolutely should.  Mantel assumes that the reader knows a lot about the sixteenth century British royals.  If you allow too much time between the books, it will be harder to remember who the players are, and why Cromwell has grudges against some and wants to protect others.  Mantel's style is unusual.  The narrator's voice is incredibly passive for such an active story.  Many, many, many sentences include the words "he, Cromwell" as in "So the bargain is struck and sealed:  he, Cromwell, is to assist the old families . . . " on page 218, or as a variation, "This time he does go; but giving him, Cromwell, a sort of mock salute . . . " on page 217.  Even though I was really interested in the action of the story, and liked the tone of the book, I found myself falling asleep with the book in my hand more often than I would have expected, lulled by the narrator's voice.

Mantel is working on the final volume now, and it is presently titled The Mirror and the Light.  If I could start reading right now, I would! 

Next Up:  Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn.  I was planning to read The Odyssey by Homer next, but then I got an email from my library saying that Gone Girl was available, but that I could only have it for one week.  Homer has already been waiting 2,500 years more or less for me to read his poem, so I guess one more week won't make much difference.

Still Listening to:  Enchantments by Kathryn Harrison

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