Sunday, 11 November 2012

How Much Power is Enough?

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

It took me months to read this book, which would normally mean I’m not that into it.  In this case, I persevered because it’s a vivid depiction of people who crave and seize power.  My slowness at reading this was caused by Kobo troubles, then trying to read this on my smart phone, a rather dumb move.  Flicking through this lengthy novel on a two inch by four inch screen slowed me down, and I only read my phone when I’m on the elliptical machine at the fitness centre.  You get the picture.  It was a slow read of a captivating novel.
Technically this is historic fiction, a genre much maligned in the past.  Other authors have careened us through the history of an event with cut out dolls in fancy costumes acting out the exciting bits.  Mantel’s Henry VIII, Thomas Cromwell and Anne Boleyn are flesh and blood, all power crazed and trembling with terror because they can’t have it all, forever.  The arrogant king bullies his underlings, yet he furtively casts an eye up to the heavens, where he knows a more powerful ruler will destroy him.  Thomas Cromwell, the main character, dances prettily among the other various power holders, all in awe of how he gained control over them, despite coming from such a bleak and vulnerable childhood.  Anne is the most powerless of all, hideously determined to grasp.  Tight lipped and grim, and rather plain looking, she’s been born and raised to do her father’s bidding, that is to please an impossible king.

Each one of these characters is deeply troubled, fearing that they are “always last year’s.  England is always remaking herself, her cliffs eroding, her sandbanks drifting, springs bubbling up in dead ground.  They regroup themselves while we sleep, the landscapes through which we move, and even the histories that trail us; the faces of the dead fade in other faces, as a spine of hills in the mist.”  These characters are no different from the shifting map of England, facing impermanence and eventual destruction.
As far as literature therapy goes, this book’s a good read for if you’re feeling vulnerable, hoping that gaining more power might help…

I recommend you buy the print version so you can easily keep notes and have handy access to the pages and pages of diagrams of who’s who.  As someone in the novel says,  there are too many characters named Tom.  While the author can’t be held responsible for that, her pronoun usage is entirely her responsibility. 
This novel is whispered in the style of a gossip who points with his chin, rarely identifying a character by name.  When a “he” is referred to, the fellow isn’t necessarily the ‘he’ that grammatically follows the last male proper noun mentioned, but the whispered “he” whom the gossip is nodding towards.  Be prepared to sort out the pronouns according to the context of what the characters are doing, not according to the rules of grammar.  But this is a small quibble for a book well worth reading.

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