It took me nearly two weeks to finish Hilary Mantel’s doorstopping sequel to Wolf Hall, Bring Up The Bodies, which last night took home the Costa Book of the Year prize to add to its Booker. The Woman’s Prize for Fiction is tipped to be next.
This book has been both praised and slated in equal measure. I’ve had someone call is ‘trash’ to my face, its been written off as ‘a middlebrow triumph’ , the Kindle’s darling, and a bookseller’s dream.
Wolf Hall, for me, was addictive, fascinating writing. I’m a Tudor Girl, and was always a Cromwell fan (I still maintain him and Calvin simultaneously invented capitalism, which I obviously hate but admire them for exceedingly. If Cromwell had been a Victorian we would have had the best run country in the world, and the Empire wouldn’t have been half as shitty). I love historical fiction, especially well written historical fiction, and I won’t apologise for that. By reading and understanding our past we can see parallels in our present and in a world where the Education minister believes in learning history by rote rather than by how events impacted on the people, we need the empathy created by fiction in order to understand the chaos of the Reformation. History is optional after 14, which is a disgrace, but then again so is PE. Nothing should be missed out and I find that by having people read fictional accounts of events that inspire greater research, a more well-rounded education is achieved. Of course, I work in an FE library so I see the end results of promoting fiction followed by reading around subjects everyday-especially in adults, but for anyone who shudders at the word ‘Btec’, I can see how adult’s learning on their own could be a strange concept. Look at the popularity of QI, which is popularised education, and you’ll see how fascinating and important just knowing stuff is. Historical fiction allows just to Just Know Stuff, and giving prizes to people who write it well shouldn’t be frowned upon.
Wolf Hall was great, but rather inaccessible. She’s created a new tense, which after a conversation with a linguistics teacher we’ve decided should be called the present present, and all the Thomas’ and he’s and his’s could confuse. It’s not a book you could speed read, unless you already think like Cromwell. Bring Up The Bodies is not only an easier book to get into, it’s also a more familiar story (Divorced…Beheaded…) and is structurally better-the last 100 pages are just nail bitingly brilliant and I am desperate now to see it on stage.
I’m now waiting for it to come out in paperback so I can buy it for work. I had to get the hardback out the library which took me forever, not that I’m complaining, because everyone else in the world wants to read this book. This was the reason it took me two weeks, you can’t lug a hardback about on the bus, I could have quite happily snuggled up somewhere warm (maybe in the recently deceased Dock Street Market, which I will mourn for its teapots if nothing else) and read this in a couple of afternoons.
I’ve had long and involved conversations about this book online and in real life with others who love it, and my favourite thing that has happened this week has been emailing pictures of Hans Holbein’s portrait to a colleague trying to figure out if we ‘would’. Mantel makes power sexy.
This book has made me want to a) read an actual biography of Cromwell b)re-read all the Shardlakes c)visit the Tower of London. I think I’m going to do all of them. Read it, it is brilliant, and don’t snub your nose at something just because its popular, there is a reason it is, and it’s not an evil one.