Friday, November 04, 2016

Books in Brief - October Edition

I haven't done a book post in ages! Here's a round up of a few things I've been reading recently.


Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel. This one has been on my to-read list for a long time. What was I waiting for? I think I felt a little intimidated, but Wolf Hall turned out to be very readable and entertaining. You're probably aware that Wolf Hall is about the Tudors, specifically during the period when Henry VIII is trying to invalidate his marriage to Katherine of Aragon and marry Anne Boleyn instead. It's a story that's been written and re-imagined many times in books and film. Mantel's version is told from the perspective of the humbly-born Thomas Cromwell, who became Henry VIII's closest advisor and engineered the Boleyn-Tudor marriage. Mantel's strength is that she makes the characters seem so alive, particularly Thomas Howard, Duke of Norfolk who Mantel brilliantly portrays as a comic character. I did end up with a lot of feelings about Wolf Hall, mainly because its version of this story is so contrary to what I came to believe from my Catholic education. I was raised to believe that Thomas More was a saint and a paragon of faith, and that Thomas Cromwell and Thomas Cranmer were the villains. In Wolf Hall, Cromwell is the sympathetic character and Thomas More is fairly icky. Anyway, I can't wait to watch the TV miniseries.


Bring up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel. Continuing the story from Wolf Hall, this book is about the downfall of Anne Boleyn and the rise of Jane Seymour. I think Anne Boleyn is one of the great mysteries of history. Was she a conniving adulterer or was she a victim? I always thought it highly improbable that she was guilty of incest, but Mantel makes the case that she was raised apart from her brother, so never developed a sibling relationship with him. Still, any woman must have known it would be madness to cheat on the king. What's your opinion?


The Wapshot Chronicle by John Cheever. Tale of a classic New England preppy family and their sorrows and adventures. This book is included in Modern Library's Top 100 best novels in English list. The family, Leander and Sarah, and their sons Moses and Coverly, all devote energy to keeping their rich eccentric Aunt Honora happy, for she may or may not leave them her money when she dies. The sons leave home to make their way in the world and show Aunt Honora that they have achieved manhood. Leander faces personal crises at home, while Sarah arrives at a scheme to help boost the family fortunes. Overall, an enjoyable read.

The Misses Mallet by E. H. Young. Emily Hilda Young was another British mid-century writer. I loved Miss Mole, one of her other novels. The Misses Mallet is about a family of spinster sisters living in England in an unspecified time, that I'm guessing was just prior to World War I. (Motor cars are mentioned, but there are no references to war.) Caroline and Sophia are nearly elderly and live on their memories of their lively girlhood. Rose, much younger, has a complicated relationship with a local farmer who is in love with her. When Henrietta, a younger niece arrives, relationships become even more complicated.

5 comments:

  1. I loved Wolf Hall but was a little disappointed by Bring Up the Bodies. The second book seemed more rushed and less interesting. I was so excited for the TV series but didn't finish it even though I loved the cast. I was so bored -- I think the thoughts that are not expressed aloud in the books make a lot of things clear to the reader. In the TV series Cromwell's face was too often impassive and blank.

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  2. I do want to read Wolf Hall. The book my girl gave me for my birthday that I was babbling about the other day was "My Brilliant Friend" by Elena Ferrante. Apparently it's the first of a trilogy. I'll let you know how I like it.

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    1. My Brilliant Friend, and the other three in the quartet, are WONDERFUL!! Some of the best books I've read in a while.

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  3. I adored the Mantel books and cannot wait for the third to come out. Really made me think, so much research she must have done to gain that perspective. Henry sounded like a horrible husband to marry from all accounts I've read.

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    1. Oh good, I was hoping there'd be a third book. I'll be reading that one too!

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