Hilary Mantel

Scrolling back to the previous blog post, I realise this is my first blog post for the year! Wow, it’s time to start writing again. What better way than to begin with a book review.

I was very taken with Hilary Mantel’s Man Booker Award-winning book, Wolf Hall. It’s everything I want in a book, a bit of fiction, a bit of history, very very good writing and the English dry wit to boot. I do like historical novels, though it is like the opposite of having spoilers, the reader will wonder, ok, has this happened yet? What is the author’s take on this other connected event? And oh, the author decide to leave out that detail. To me, it balances my need to read fiction and also puts at ease any niggling feelings that I’m wasting my time on reading pure fiction. It’s like what the main character in Murakami’s Dance Dance Dance said, sometimes reading fiction, especially the none too spectacular ones, makes me feel like I’m wasting my life.

I like the rhythm of the prose, the way there are always three descriptions or synonyms for the same thing. I like the fact that she was a lawyer previously and her habit for exactness certainly showed in her novel. I like the play on legalese and its absurdity, though there was not quite enough of that. I also like the sheer volume of the novel. I can’t quite get enough of that great writing. So I’m glad that there is a sequel lined up for fans like me.

As for the plot, I like the central theme of religion and politics in the book as well. Having watched the movie, the “Other Boleyn Sister”, it was a pity the clergy didn’t feature much in that movie. Not too impressed with that movie either, though I am a fan of Natalie Portman.

As for characters, I like the main protagonist, the anti-hero (I think) – Thomas Cromwell. The sheer number of characters in that novel makes it sometimes difficult to keep track of who’s who and in addition there’s quite a few characters with common names like Mary, Thomas but I guess it’s not like Mantel can retrospectively change the names of historical figures just to avoid confusion to the readers. Nonetheless, this makes for some heavy reading, not something you can do when you are half asleep.

I envy Thomas Cromwell’s ability to sleep so little (“a mere four hours will refresh him”). I like his sardonic wit, his intellect, fierce loyalty to the cardinal, his decency and humanity. After he has risen to become the king’s right hand man, he was obviously trying to avoid unnecessary bloodshed and was trying to save the martyr. His inability to understand why people would choose to die over compromising their principles or beliefs is something identifiable to those who find it difficult to believe in absolutes. To those, where sometimes right and wrong is not so stark, and most things appear to be that pallid shade of grey.

I can’t wait for the next book. In my hunger, I ventured to read her other works, like “Beyond Black”. However, it was quite a far far cry from “Wolf Hall”. The writing was contemporary, and written in a stream of consciousness style, my least favourite writing style. I like structure in a book, preferably in chronological order as well. The multiple flashbacks and portrayal of memories enshrouded in mystery and deep black sin and depravity was just not my cup of tea. Nevertheless, I read finish the book for the sake of its cleverer, wittier sibling.

So go to a bookstore and read Wolf Hall already. It will rock your socks.

2 Responses to “Hilary Mantel”
  1. marycherry says:

    if there’s one phrase that gives me goosebumps, it’s “stream of consciousness” and my monumental struggle with v. woolf’s works

  2. Yeah, me too! I’ve tried to read Virginia Woolf’s books and end up being muddled and confused.

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