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Tony Grist

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Bring Up The Bodies: Hilary Mantel [Jun. 26th, 2012|11:00 am]
Tony Grist
Wolf Hall was Mantel's widescreen moment, the moment she stepped up into a larger world- as (for comparison) Waugh did when he moved from the early satires to Brideshead Revisited and The Sword of Honour trilogy. If British authors attempted Great British Novels the way Americans attempt Great American Novels this would have been the point at which she declared herself a contender. The humour and grotesquerie are still there (the goblins still caper) but subdued now to a panoramic vision.

Before I read it I made the mistake of supposing a book about Tudor England was bound to be escapist (you'll find that opinion set down somewhere in this blog.) Stupid of me. Wolf Hall goes back into the past the better to reflect on the things that are the making of any age- family, sex, friendship, politics. It's not a safe book. How foolhardy brave- in an age that despises politics as never before- to make a politician your hero- and not any politician but the most universally hated-  most capable- politician in British history. Mantel's Cromwell does bad things, but is not a bad man. Or is he? His home life ( like Goebbels') is exemplary. By showing us Henrician England through his eyes Mantel makes us complicit in its crimes. Cromwell tears down, he kills (but always humanely if he can); he serves his king and his own interest: he sees off the Catholic Middle ages and forwards the Reformation. He is history's knowing instrument, the miller of God who grinds exceedingly small. The times demanded. What else could he have done?

In Wolf Hall the Boleyns came up. In Bring Up The Bodies they go down. A middle volume always suffers from having no beginning and no end, from not being quite a book in its own right- but there is no faltering here in pace or commitment. There are set pieces that take your breath away.  When the trilogy is complete I will re-read it with the care it demands, taking better notice of the complex subtleties of plotting and patterning. Right now I'm just greedy for more. The writing has a lapidary dazzle. 

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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2012-06-26 11:05 am (UTC)
It's probably too early to call it one of the great books of the 21st century- but I think that's what it is.
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[User Picture]From: sovay
2012-06-26 02:50 pm (UTC)
but there is no faltering here in pace or commitment. There are set pieces that take your breath away.

I am very glad. Wolf Hall was my introductory Mantel (although I've been recommended A Place of Greater Safety for years) and then I didn't understand why I'd never read her before; I didn't want the sequel to disappoint. I shall find a copy and wait with everyone else for the third.

Wolf Hall was Mantel's widescreen moment

I like that way of saying it.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2012-06-26 03:40 pm (UTC)
Thank you. I'd been worrying that image wasn't clear enough.

Wolf Hall was my first Mantel. I've been playing catch-up since. I particularly like Beyond Black and A Change of Climate.
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[User Picture]From: endlessrarities
2012-07-06 05:16 pm (UTC)
Can't wait to read it - but I'm waiting for the paperback!! Glad to hear it's lived up to expectations...
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2012-07-07 09:13 am (UTC)
She's good.
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