This morning, I opened the online news sites that I visit every day and learned that Hilary Mantel had died. It came as a shock, as a blow to the heart and to the mind that learned to love her writing, especially her Thomas Cromwell trilogy.
I looked back at my reviews of those books and discovered that I had never posted the review of the first one on the blog, so here it is for those who may be interested:
January 13, 2010
by Hilary Mantel
"The fate of peoples is made like this, two men in small rooms. Forget the coronations, the conclaves of cardinals, the pomp and processions. This is how the world changes: a counter pushed across a table, a pen stroke that alters the force of a phrase, a woman's sigh as she passes and leaves on the air a trail of orange flower or rose water; her hand pulling close the bed curtain, the discreet sigh of flesh against flesh..." (Excerpt from "Wolf Hall" describing a meeting between Cromwell and the French ambassador.)
This is a novel about how a people's fate is determined. It is also about how an individual's - Thomas Cromwell's - fate is determined. It follows Cromwell from his childhood with an abusive father in Putney to his place at the right hand of the king, from whom he derives and wields enormous power.
I first made the acquaintance of Thomas Cromwell last year when I read C.J. Sansom's Matthew Shardlake series. Cromwell was Shardlake's mentor and protector early in his career. He was an interesting and conflicted character in those books, and so he is in this one as well.
This book, of course, was the Man Booker Prize winner of 2009 and it is easy to see why. It is lyrically written and it gives us the man, Cromwell, with his warts intact, but ultimately it is a sympathetic telling of his story. The reader feels that Mantel had a real empathy for Cromwell and was interested in helping the reader see the world through Cromwell's eyes.
The portraits that she gives us of Henry VIII, Katherine of Aragon, and Anne Boleyn, as well as the lesser players in the story, are many-layered and complex. And always at the edges of this story is the young Jane Seymour, a lady in waiting to Anne - and queen in waiting to Henry.
All in all, it is a riveting story and it kept my interest throughout. One minor quibble and really the only reason I didn't give the book five stars - Mantel seems allergic to the use of quotation marks. Oh, she does use them, but now and then, she will slip into a long passage where they are totally absent and I found it sometimes difficult to know who was speaking at these times. Usually, when her indirect quotes indicate "he said" she is talking about Cromwell, but at times it is just unnecessarily confusing and irritating (at least to this reader).
And here are links to the other two reviews:
Hers was a unique talent and I think we will not see her like again.