Tag Archives: historical fiction

WBN 85: Wolf Hall

I’m steadily working my way through the nation’s 100 favourite books according to World Book Night’s poll in 2011. Find out more about this challenge and check my progress here.

Alias Grace, a couple of books ago, put me in the mood for more historical fiction, so I picked up Wolf Hall, Hilary Mantel’s Booker winning novel chronicling the life and times of Thomas Cromwell as he goes from abused but hardy child languishing in poverty to advisor to King Henry VIII. Cromwell played a crucial role in the annulment of Henry’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon, making Henry’s second marriage to Anne Boleyn possible, but later fell from favour when he arranged the disastrous third marriage to Anne of Cleves. This book covers Cromwell’s rise to success, and though it finishes with him at the peak of his influence, there’s also a sense of foreboding; those with any knowledge of English history will be aware that Cromwell’s success is short lived; just five years later his head will roll.

The scale of Wolf Hall is simply breathtaking. It takes on the politics of Tudor Britain and the domestics of life at that time, but hangs them all on the frame of a man who is so charismatic and magnetic that he carries it all with ease. Cromwell is for once painted quite sympathetically, as a smart and capable man; the underdog who has deservedly come out on top. This isn’t the easiest read in the world, and its heft can definitely be offputting, but I’d try to convince anyone to persevere. The sequel, Bring up the Bodies, is currently on my shelves, glinting at me in its tempting golden cover. I want to save it until I’ve finished this challenge, but at this stage I’m not promising anything!

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WBN 98: Alias Grace

I’m steadily working my way through the nation’s 100 favourite books according to World Book Night’s poll in 2011. Find out more about this challenge and check my progress here.

One of my favourite Atwood novels, Alias Grace is based on the true story of one of Canada’s most infamous alleged murderers. I always used to think I didn’t like historical fiction, for some reason. I couldn’t imagine what value there would be in writing or reading a rehash of events, bound by the facts and restricted by history. This is one of the books that changed my mind. Yes, of course a writer of historical fiction has to stick to the facts, but how many facts are actually established? Atwood dances in and out of the testimony and the records, casting doubt on some, sticking to others and ripping a few to shreds. Of course, what Atwood has come up with may not be anything like what happened, but isn’t it tempting to believe it? Doesn’t it feel good to be presented with a convincing account of events, and be able to say: yes, yes that’s what happened?

As always with Atwood, there’s a fascinating character at the centre of everything in the form of Grace Marks. Imprisoned for the murder of her master and his mistress, Grace is being interviewed by a doctor to try to retrieve the memories, apparently lost, of the crucial day when the murder occurred. Grace is undeniably a relatable, sympathetic character, and her story made me just want to give her a hug, really. But, I regularly had to remind myself that I only had her word for anything that went on. After a couple of re-reads of Alias Grace, I can’t honestly say to what extent anything might have been true, but I want to believe everything.

In other news…

Do you compulsively check your phone? I do! Help yourself resist by heading to tap.unicefusa.org before you put down your mobile. For every ten minutes that you don’t touch your phone, UNICEF’s sponsors help them provide clean water for a child for one day. I popped it on whilst writing this blog post and now I’ve helped donate 3 days of clean water, as well as staying focussed on the job at hand!

I love the sound of the meat and spirit events that Rare Leeds are running. Here are Amy Elizabeth and The Awkward Magazine‘s writeups of the Beef and Bourbon night (check out the beef dessert!), and I’ll be hoping for a repeat of the gin and chicken night.

I’m working on a post about my experiences now I’m approaching the halfway point of the #100happydays challenge. See my happy pictures on instagram.

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