In Praise Of Hilary Mantel
I brought an awful lot of books away with me (don’t say ‘Kindle’ – most of them aren’t out yet; I’m judging) and there were a lot of awful books. Not that I had time to do any reading on this trip. The hotel libraries I checked had books in English, Japanese, French and German – unusually, there were no US tourists at all, anywhere. The English contingent was the most embarrassing – Andy McNabs, Jeffrey Archers, a few drippy romances.
But the one book I’ve belatedly fallen in love with is ‘Wolf Hall’. I would have dismissed it as a Heritage History novel had it not been for Mantel’s name. I first read her – ‘Eight Months On Ghazzah Street’ – appropriately in the Middle East, and was astonished by the quiet vigour of her prose.
‘Beyond Black’ was not to everyone’s taste, but this devastatingly sad tale of a medium working the outer London borough halls gripped and moved me. I delayed with ‘Wolf Hall’ because Tudor history is simultaneously overexposed and under-explored. You get hilarious rubbish like ‘The Tudors’ on TV trampling English history into a series of branding tick-boxes.
What Mantel has done is to reclaim the mindset of the period in a unique prose style that’s both accessible and dense. Instead of historical data she gives us personal detail, and we see the monarchy in the way that those closest would experience the capricious machine of government – from a slight and fearful remove.
I cannot begin to understand how she created the mental state in which to write it, and it makes me feel like abandoning writing altogether, because nothing I do can ever approach what she does. If the book has been sitting on your shelf for the past year unread, take it somewhere quiet and devour it, delighting in the knowledge that there’s another volume to follow.