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Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Wolf at the Door

Both blogging and reading have taken a back seat recently, mainly because I've been doing a lot of work on the third novel in the 'Journals of Matthew Quinton', namely The Blast That Tears the Skies. However, I'm finally reading Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall; long overdue, I know, but most of the things on the 'to read' list are now long overdue! It's a stunning piece of writing and a deceptively easy read. I've read very few Booker winners/nominees over the years, mainly because I suppose I have a deep-seated aversion to the overhyped, but this is clearly a thoroughly well deserved winner of the prize (and it's good to see an out-and-out historical novel gaining such recognition!). Several critics have commented on her success in recreating an entire world, and I'd concur with that. In that sense, it resembles Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey/Maturin novels; the attention to detail is so breathtaking that one actually overlooks it, simply because you're drawn totally and seamlessly into this alternative world that the writer has created. Mantel's grasp of some very complex history is pretty much flawless, too, although her Thomas Cromwell (and to a lesser extent her Wolsey) is probably rather too sympathetic when compared with the original. For me, one of the most interesting aspects of Mantel's technique is the decision she took about language, namely to make it unashamedly 'modern'. This works well, although purists might quibble about some aspects of it, notably the comparative lack of deference in the way that those of lower rank address those of higher status. I'd also have preferred religion to be a little more central to the motivation and thought processes of her characters, as it undoubtedly was to the real people whom she is recreating, but that would probably have been the kiss of death in terms of winning the Booker Prize! I'm still a way off finishing Wolf Hall, but when I eventually do, I'll have a real dilemma in terms of the rest of the vast 'to read' list: what on earth can I pick up that will be able to follow a book this good?

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