I have spent the last 3 weeks in England. First London I in the ‘70s in Ian McEwan’s Sweet Tooth – working at MI6 in literary and romantic intrigue.
Then I’ve alternated between Thomas Cromwell’s England – at Henry VIII’s court, his own home at Austin Friar as well as others’ manors and homes – noble and otherwise in Wolf Hall.
Finally, Charles Dickens has led me through Victorian England’s layers of society in Bleak House while I’ve driven from Massachusetts to Virginia and on errands around home.
Sweet Tooth is a literary spy novel—highbrow James Bond --featuring a beautiful young woman, Serena Frome and her secret literary mission – the promising writer Tom Haley. Full with interesting complex short stories that act as clues to Haley’s personality and an ending that projects beyond the end of the book and leaves one savoring the sweetness of the romance within it.
I don’t read a lot of historical novels, but picked up Wolf Hall at a library sale for a dollar last year thinking I do well with most prize winners, and this one had won the Booker a few years back. Started it. Dropped it. It was too big, too thick, too many characters, too many locations. And all that complicated succession background that I have to review each time I dip into English history. At the time I needed shorter, tighter plots. Quick, but layered reads.
I picked Wolf Hall up again just after Christmas, thinking I have time now and Mantel has once again won the Booker for part two of this planned trilogy, Bring Up the Bodies. Must be good.
So I tried again. Glad I did. I sunk deeply into this wonderful book, wandering with Cromwell in his world. Machiavellian expediency and a humane heart balance the book, the man. While Cromwell’s interactions with Thomas More emerge as a central conflict in the book, the fuller human portrait of Cromwell as a son, husband, father, apprentice and mentor anchors it. Henry VIII’s court may be where his mind solves the political business of the day, but home at Austin Friars is where his heart is.
I am working on a review and will post soon.
Bleak House (audiobook)
I am happy to be listening to a classic. It’s been a while since I have taken one on and I think that decision is a direct result of reading others’ blogs. I had forgotten how much I like Dickens’ caricatured characters; how they so successfully hover between their exaggerated single traits and their detailed descriptions. As in Wolf Hall, I marvel at the breadth of society represented. There are so many people that I need to repeatedly look them up as I listen/read. (In Wolf Hall – the cast of characters and Tudor and Yorkist charts at the beginning of the book are helpful – as is Wikipedia. For Bleak Hall, I used the internet Spark Notes to review characters when I needed to. I also found a nice Pinterest board on Wolf Hall that showed pictures of many of the characters in the book.) I have only a few more hours of listening left.
That’s an update on reading/listening. Where next? Back to the USA – and mysteries. I have taken a few CJ Box mysteries out of the library as he will be visiting the Virginia Festival of the Book, and I am considering going to hear him. I have followed Paul Doiron’s Maine warden, Mike Bowditch and have long been aware that Box offers another warden series. I just begun with Nowhere to Run, but already the difference in the landscapes of Maine and Wyoming is striking. (Consider transportation alone horseback vs. snowmobiles).
Finally, inspired by blogs and others, I have chosen a challenge. I plan to follow the Europa editions challenge and commit to six books. I am beginning with mysteries again – those of Gene Kerrigan.