Monday, October 29, 2012

Up Half the Night Reading

In an earlier post, I announced to the world that Hilary Mantel's, Bringing up the Bodies, had been selected for my summer reading. As the season slid into fall, it was mid October, glorious and ripe with color and the bounty of my garden, that I reached the end of this fabulous book. The night table lamp, put to such good use over the previous weeks, I finally  turned off. With a scant few hours sleep before the cruel alarm would shake me unwillingly from my rest, I still had trouble nodding off as my mind continued to reel.

Even though I have stopped reading it, the book is still with me and in my thoughts. I find I return to it several times a day. Discussing the novel over dinner with our book club, I found fellow readers in complete agreement as to the utter majesty of the work. Over the years, we have read so many fine authors,  and this week were were able to toast the first British woman to win the Man Booker Prize not once, but twice. Wolf Hall, being the first to claim the coveted honor covers the rise of Thomas Cromwell, the mastermind in Henry VIII's turbulent reign. In Bringing up the Bodies, the book covers a shorter time span, the scant weeks leading up to Anne Boleyn's ultimate demise. We know the story, it has been told before, but not at all like this. Exquisite descriptive power pushes the story forward; the action moves swiftly and the details of Anne Boleyns execution seem so real that one forgets to breathe. So many times I put out the light, and then lay there in the dark, sat up and turned the light on again. 

Here is a glimpse of Mantel's style from page 36. of Bringing up the Bodies:

“His relations with the queen, as summer draws to it official end, are chary, uncertain and frought with distrust. Anne Boleyn in now thirty four years old, an elegant woman, with a refinement that makes mere prettiness seem redundant. Once sinuous, she has become angular. She retains her dark glitter, now rubbed a little, flaking in places. Her prominent dark eyes she uses to good effect, and in this fashion she glances at a man's face, then her regard flits away, as if unconcerned, indifferent. There is a pause: as it might be a breath. Then slowly, as if compelled, she turns her gaze back to him. Her eyes rest on his face. She examines this man. She examines him as if he is the only man in the world. She looks as if she is seeing him for the first time, and considering all sorts of uses for him, all sorts of possibilities which he has not even thought of himself. To her victim the moment seems to last an age, during which shivers run up his spine. Though in fact the trick is quick, cheap, effective and repeatable, it seems to the poor fellow that he is now distinguished among all men. He smirks. He preens himself. He grows a little taller. He grows a little more foolish.” 

Years ago, I was informed by a group of editors in New York, top men in their fields that "history does not sell." Repeating this statement to all in sundry, I heard many many times  readers tell me that they liked it best.  Now that Mantel has won this most revered prize twice it will serve to lift the form back to its proper place. For all those who have always loved history and fiction, I can promise you will not be disappointed. This book represents historical fiction at its absolute finest. 



Jennifer Rova said...

I enjoyed reading your post and your enthusiasm about Hilary Mantel's books. Historical fiction is my favorite genre mainly because it can be set in Roman times, WWII or any place before or after. A plethora of subjects and hundreds of ways to write about it. I tried reading the first Mantel book and got lost. Maybe I will try harder and give it another go.

Elizabeth S. Brinton said...

I don't think you will be disappointed. Also, you don't need to have read the first book to get into the second.
Happy reading...

Kathy Cooney Dobbs said...

Thank you, Liz for this excellent review of Bring Up The Bodies. It makes me wish I had the book right now so I could begin reading !