Monday, October 18, 2010

Wolf Hall

I've finally managed to start reading Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel (winner of the Man Booker prize in 2009). I am overcome by admiration of her power as a writer. Historical novels are very difficult to do successfully. Usually they fall into the trap of letting the research show; just a little too much detail, on pretty much anything - furniture, clothing, food - is enough to give the game away. But not here. Her style seems astonishingly plain and direct, yet is full of complexity - very like her central figure (as she imagines him), Thomas Cromwell, as he skilfully negotiates the shifting, deadly tides of Henry  VIII's court while the king tries to rid himself of Katharine and marry Anne. None of the film or TV sagas based on that perennially fascinating era can hold a candle to this brilliant book. But it does, of course, demand commitment and concentration of a kind that may be threatened by the very different reading environment of the internet. I don't want to live in a world where books like this are no longer written, or scarcely read. Still, right now they continue to be acclaimed.

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