My favourite Mantel

From The Guardian:

From Wolf Hall to Beyond Black and Giving Up The Ghost, cultural figures pick their highlights from a remarkable career

Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies

Margaret Atwood
The Tudors! Who can resist them? Gossip! Rumour! Scandal! Ruffs! Backstabbing! Madrigals! Farthingales! Witchcraft! Lace-on velvet sleeves! Cut-off body parts! More!

We know the plot, or at least its bare outlines, but we seem compelled to relive it in books, films, plays, operas, and television series: and all the more so when viewed through the shrewd, calculating, vengeful, cautious, Machiavellian eyes of master game-player Thomas Cromwell, fixer and hitman to Henry VIII, as rendered in sumptuous, riveting detail by Hilary Mantel in Wolf Hall. If Cromwell had had a phone Mantel could hack, you’d scarcely be brought closer to the inner wheels and cogs of his bloody-minded and bloody-handed machinations.

Bring Up the Bodies picks up from Wolf Hall. Things are not going well for Anne Boleyn, who has beguiled her way into the queendom over the cast-off though not yet dead body of Katherine of Aragon, but has failed to produce a male heir. Nor is she playing her cards adroitly: she’s too smart, too argumentative, too intent on influencing policy, too secretly Protestant, and too prone to miscarriages. It’s clear that Henry now wants to be rid of her, having spotted a more docile girl in Jane Seymour; and once he’s made this wish explicit, Cromwell goes to work. It’s always a dicey job, being henchman to an absolutist tyrant, especially one who’s becoming increasingly paranoid and petulant. There was that fall from the horse and the concussion, and then the weeping sore on his leg: what exactly was wrong with Henry? Doctors are still pondering; but whatever it was, it did not improve his temper.

We’re the silent sharers of Cromwell’s deliberations as he weaves his way to his goal – the removal of Anne, and, not incidentally, payback for the courtiers who had humiliated his old master, Cardinal Wolsey – through secret dealing, blackmailing, hectoring, torturing, and the stage-managing of a bogus show trial worthy of Stalin. We know the story won’t end well for him – henchmen often capsize – but we watch with horror and admiration as he achieves his gruesome ends.

Mantel’s triumph is to make us understand – and even like, in a grudging sort of way – this historically unattractive figure. Her meticulous research is lightly worn, unlike the carefully considered fabrics and textures of the courtiers, and her depiction of the many flawed human instruments on which Cromwell plays is sadly convincing.

I await the forthcoming third volume, The Mirror & the Light, with great anticipation. There’s an axe in it somewhere, I’m guessing. No spoilers though.

Link to the rest at The Guardian

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