I have to congratulate author Hilary Mantel who has today been awarded the Booker Prize for the second time in her career. In 2009 she released “Wolf Hall”, which won her the accolade for the first time. I haven’t read it – it’s massively on my To Read list. The thing is, it’s a chunky book, and recently it took me 7 months to read Susan Hill’s tiny novel “The Small Hand”. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy it; I just tend not to get through a book unless I am on a beach, plane or train. I suppose the time most people use for reading, I use for writing.
Anyway, this isn’t about me! Despite not having read Wolf Hall, I know that it charts Thomas Cromwell’s rise in Henry VIIIs Tudor court, through the period that Katherine of Aragon was divorced, Anne Boleyn made her way to the throne, and Jane Seymour popped up. Mantel’s sequel, titled “Bring up the Bodies” evidently charts the downfall of Anne Boleyn, through Cromwell’s despicable eyes. Apparently, it is written masterfully, hence her being awarded the prize for the second time. The feat is additionally accomplished in that Mantel is the first woman to receive the prize twice, the first author to receive it for two successive novels, and the first British person to win it twice (discounting J G Farrell who won his second Booker Prize posthumously a la Heath Ledger).
Mantel has said that as she wrote this, she “felt the evil seeping into her bones”. She is referring to the evil that ran wild amidst Henry VIIIs vicious, perilous and horrifying court. I have read the entirety of Philippa Gregory’s Tudor series, which certainly paints a picture of nastiness; and Gregory is one of my all-time favourite novelists. But her stories can be a little dressed-up – I would imagine they fall somewhere in between Mantel’s work and Showtime’s TV series “The Tudors” (which is outrageously glamorized and bloody fantastic, despite the fact that Henry VIII never gets fat). I can’t comment too explicitly as I have not yet read Mantel’s works, but it sounds to me that it truly captures the terror of that time in history, from the viewpoint of someone who helped create, orchestrate and execute that terror. I am fascinated by evil characters in literature – and this was a real person. Philippa Gregory paints a picture of Anne Boleyn as a rather nasty piece of work, some historians claim she was totally wronged; whatever the case, the woman is the most famous of the Tudor queens, and her story is captivating. I enjoy reading any depiction of this woman, her husband and her subsequent and preceding queens. I’m itching, therefore, to read “Wolf Hall” and even more so to read “Bring up the Bodies” as it sounds like this novel focuses more on Boleyn than anyone else, as Cromwell watches her with his vicious little eyes.
The novel I am writing has a nasty protagonist. I wouldn’t call him “evil”, but he’s vindictive and snide and selfish; he’s nasty. And it is so much fun to write him! Malevolence is so much more freeing and entertaining to translate onto the page. I admire authors like Helen Fielding, who write likable protagonists like Bridget Jones. There’s a fine line between a sympathetic/delightful character and a whinging/irritating one. The thing with writing a cruel man is that you can allow him to think and do whatever the hell he wants; whatever the hell YOU want. I feel that I’ll be greatly inspired by Mantel’s work when I finally read it.
I’ve learnt that Mantel is writing a third book as a direct sequel to “Bring up the Bodies”, therefore completing the trilogy. I hear it’s to be called “The Mirror and the Light” and I presume it will be about Cromwell’s own downfall. I hope it will bring in the character of Katherine Howard who intrigues me the most as a character and who I imagine to be a spoilt, seductive queen and a total fool. Again, Gregory writes her brilliantly in “The Boleyn Inheritance” and I wonder how other historical writers imagine her to be. My aim is to get through books 1 & 2 before the third is released. One reviewer today wrote that they envy those who are yet to read these books, because the wait for the third one will be excruciating. I suppose I should count myself enviable, then!