Saturday, September 11, 2010

On Procrastination...

They called Ronald Reagan 'the great communicator. I am 'the great procrastinator. I've read many books since my last entry here - so many I've made a list. One of the more recent is....

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

No - it's not about werewolves nor is it a Gothic novel. This book won the 2009 Man Booker award and has had great critical praise. Neither factor attracted me. It was the subject matter - the reign of King Henry the VIII of England. Actually, the book is about Thomas Cromwell, adviser to Cardinal Wolsey who had the bad luck of dealing with Henry in his quest for a 'proper' annulment from Queen Katherine.

In the front of the book are several pages of formidable family trees of Brit royalty. After that 'royal' start, the book opens with bang - a graphic scene of Thomas Cromwell as a boy, being beaten by his drunken father. After that brief 'section I' - we are picked up at the start of Section II and set down in the English court some 30 or more years later. What happened in the interim is mentioned only in vague terms with no explanation of how the son of an drunken blacksmith wound up in the corridors of power.

It helps to have some knowledge and understanding of the era and since I've read reams - biographies, novels - about the reigns of Henry and his daughter Elizabeth, I had an advantage. I know the Boleyns; the dukes of Norfolk and Suffolk referred to are familiar - their intrigues and aspirations. The English court of the era was pretty messy. The clergy also were very powerful and rich, plotting with the best (or worst) of the court.

All this makes the plot sound dense and inaccessible - but it's not. The reader will sort of 'live' in Cromwell's head. The sense of 'being there' - of eavesdropping - is strong. The prose is quite poetic and that's nice but I read for content. The beauty of a well turned phrase is a bonus. One 'nit' to pick. Mantel is a bit obscure when she identifies people who are conversing. I was thrown off balance any number of times by the fact that, in conversations, she uses the word 'he' instead of the speaker's name. There were times when I didn't know who was saying what and had to come to a screeching halt while I backtracked to identify the speaker.

By the way, the 'Wolf Hall' of the title is only alluded to - it is apparently the 'lair' of the Seymours, one of whom becomes the wife of Henry VIII, following Anne Boleyn. I've read that a sequel to this book is in the works in which I would guess that Wolf Hall becomes more prominent.