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Scan 12So having finally finished Wolf Hall at the second attempt I was so absorbed in the story of Thomas Cromwell that I immediately picked up the sequel, Bring Up The Bodies. This turned out to be a wise decision as it was equally as well written as its predecessor though potentially darker in tone and with a slightly different style which I can’t quite put my finger on.

This picks up from the end of Wolf Hall, with Henry VII divorced from wife one, married to wife two and casting his eye around at other women in the court, with a particular fancy for Jane Seymour whom we know will become wife three. Although he now has Anne in his possession she id pregnant and the King needs female companionship. It’s also becoming clear even at this early stage that he is becoming tired of Anne as a personality; Mantel portrays her as manipulative and unforgiving and her behaviour will sow the seeds of her inevitable downfall when she fails to provide a male heir. She does of course produce Elizabeth I, my great heroine of which I will say no more other than that her rare appearances as a baby and toddler in the book are rather sweet.

This reads like a thriller and I tanked my way through the second half in a single sitting. Once its clear that no son is forthcoming Henry starts casting around for reasons to get rid of Anne and Cromwell, with his informants everywhere and his growing attachment to the Seymour family , helps pull together the evidence required to have her executed for treason. I found the portrayal of Anne really compelling; I’ve always felt she was hard done by, and I know Mantel is taking a particular position here but I have to say that her descriptions of Anne’s alleged behaviour shows her to be at the very least a foolish woman who overestimated her power and influence over the King.

The role of families in court politics is also fascinating, the way fathers and brothers effectively pimped their women folk to royalty for land and power and influence is remarkably dismaying but, of course, par for the course over many centuries.

I still like Cromwell. His attempts to help Katherine, Mary and Anne to give the King what he wants and needs while allowing them to retain some form of dignity are admirable but doomed. Pride is a very important commodity for these women, and for Henry himself, who comes across as rather more petulant and self-serving in this volume. Still can’t stand the man though.

There will be a third book which will take us up to Cromwell’s death; not sure when that will appear but I’m already looking forward to seeing how my favourite Henrician queen, Anne of Cleves, is handled. Wonderful stuff.

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WolfHallHilaryMantel54268_fI started to read this as part of the read-a-long hosted by Coffee and a Book Chick; the launch post explaining why it has taken me so long to get to this book is here. And I started with the best of intentions but, you know what sometimes happens, you aren’t really in the mood for that sort of book at that time, or other distractions come along, or you get into a bit of a reading slump. So I stopped.

But I always intended to go back to Wolf Hall; I must have done because I swept up the sequel in hardback when it came out, and I’m not daft enough to do that if I don’t intend to do the whole thing, am I? (Rhetorical). And this year, because I’ve been in a good place in terms of my reading I picked it up again and was hooked. I got, at the second time of asking, why so many people love this and why it won the Booker. It is simply magnificent.

I’ve said elsewhere that I’ve got a bit of a girl crush on Mantel, since seeing her interviewed in a BBC profile. That doesn’t mean that I believe that she can do no wrong. The recent controversy over what she may or may not have said about the Duchess of Cambridge was entirely manufactured by some elements of the press, but she did set herself up for  it whether deliberately or not its difficult to tell. (By the way I thought her speech, which I read in the London Review of Books, was thought-provoking and I was very cross indeed with the personal nature of some of the attacks on her which largely proved her point.)

But back to Wolf Hall. This is the first in a projected trilogy which covers the life of Thomas Cromwell, an adviser initially to Cardinal Wolsey and then to Henry VIII himself, who assists the King in his divorce from Katharine of Aragon who has failed to give him a surviving male heir, and his subsequent marriage to Anne Boleyn. I shall declare an interest which I’ve mentioned elsewhere I’m sure that my degree is in modern history and the sixteenth century is my thing (my dissertation was on Philip II of Spain as King of England during his marriage to Mary Tudor). So I always read fiction set in the period with a tiny wee bit of trepidation. Of course here I needn’t have worried. The factual stuff is all accurate and the speculation is plausible and convincing, so I was very happy being swept up in a convincing recreation of the period.

Mantel has made Cromwell a sympathetic of not wholly likeable person and the sadness in his private life gives a real insight into family life at the time, when illness and sudden death were all around. And it’s good to see someone finally having a go at Thomas More – never liked him and always thought that previous portrayals left out a lot of the unsavoury elements of his behaviour. I’m not going to say that I felt any increase in sympathy for Henry himself; I’ve always thought he was odious, a tyrant and a cruel man, but Mantel does give some clues as to how he may have turned out that way.

Fascinating and compelling and I am glad I persevered.

Since my last post to the Sunday Salon I have singularly failed to finish anything though I have been dipping in and out of a number of books.

And despite the imposition of an alleged book buying embargo, I have obtained the following new books since my last post (some paid for by a book token left over from my birthday so not quite as damning as it looks):

  • Watson’s Choice by Gladys Mitchell – Sir Bohun Chantry’s party to celebrate Sherlock Holmes is thrown into disarray by the arrival of the Hound of the Baskervilles but luckily Mrs Bradley is there to put things to rights (as soon as I got this I added  it to my Readathon pile and it is well and truly read)
  • The Kings of Eternity by Eric Brown – ” a novel of vast scope and depth, yet imbued with humanity and characters you’ll come to love” and a recommendation from Silvery Dude, as is:
  • The Last Werewolf by Glen Duncan – “You’re the last. I’m sorry. The end is coming” Justin Cronin says its glorious so how could it possibly be avoided?
  • Adorned in Dreams by Elizabeth Wilson – an updated version of a book on fashion and modernity which was first published in 1985. When it came out, Angela Carter said it was “the  best I have read on the subject, bar none”
  • Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan – I’ve left some clues for you. If you want them, turn the page. If you don’t, put the book back on the shelf, please.”
  • Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel – the sequel to Wolf Hall, and a means of encouraging me to finally getting round to finishing it
  • Beyond Black by Hilary Mantel – “Alison Hart, a medium by trade, tours the dormitory tons of London’s orbital road with her flint-hearted sidekick Colette, passing on messages from dead ancestors” Philip Pullman says this is one of he greatest ghost stories in the language
  • A Place of Greater Safety by Hilary Mantel – I think i can see a bit of a pattern here – “a gripping epic and tour de force of historical imagination”
  • The Saltmarsh Murders by Gladys Mitchell – Mrs Bradley once again, proving that “some English villages can be murderously peaceful”
  • Foundation: The History of England Part 1 by Peter Ackroyd – just dipping into this on the way home in the cab was a joy; takes us up to the death of Henry VII

Not a bad haul; now if I could only get some of my current reads FINISHED…….

Only finished one book this week, though have started a couple of others. The one I did finish was  Blueeyedboy by Joanne Harris which was really compelling as I said in my post last week. I have continued to read and love The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters and have started one of my big re-reads.

New books arriving chez Bride this week are:

  • Immortal Queen by Elizabeth Byrd – Mary Queen of Scots in a 1970s style
  • Eat Him If You Like by Jean Teule – “A true story. Tuesday 16 August 1870, Alain de Money, makes his way to the village fair. He arrives at two o’clock. Two hours later, the crowd has gone crazy; they have lynched, tortured, burned and eaten him”. A short but apparently powerful story.
  • The Suicide Shop by Jean Teule – “Has your life been a failure? Let’s make your death a success”
  • Unwritten Secrets by Ronald Frame -“Mariel Baxter, a famous American soprano, has suddenly cancelled all her recitals and flown to Vienna. In the 1980s she came to the city to study the art of lieder singing with the reclusive Ursule Kroll, one of the brightest stars of the Nazi era and a favourite of the Fuhrer himself. The two haven’t communicated since Mariel’s unexpected departure over twenty-five years ago. So why has Mariel come back?”

I have loved Ronald Frame for a very long time and may write a post just about him in the near future. He pops up again because on a long trip back home from Manchester  I played about on the Amazon app on my iPhone and downloaded some of his stories for the Kindle app on my iPad (which I don’t talk about very much because although I have quite a few books on there I haven’t actually read any). But this week I’ve bought quite a few, namely:

This week I have alot of travelling (Manchester and Glasgow) and some time off so I’m hoping to get a bit of reading done.

I’m really not very good at “directed” reading – you just have to look at the number of challenges I’ve started and failed at over the almost five years this blog has been underway. But I am determined to really crack on with the read-a-long of Wolf Hall which is being hosted by Coffee and a Book Chick from tomorrow until the middle of December. This is due to the extreme embarrassment of having bought the book as soon as it came out in hardback and being too scared to start reading it in case I don’t like it.

After all, the sixteenth century is one of my things (my degree dissertation was on Philip II as King of England 1554-1558) so I should have leaped into reading this with some abandon.

Except I didn’t.

But now that I have a girl crush on Hilary Mantel and someone is telling me how much to read and when, surely, surely I should be able to do this?

The schedule is as follows:

  • November 28: Reading commences on or before
  • December 4: Progress post for Parts 1 & 2
  • December 11: Progress post for Parts 3 & 4
  • December 18: Final Progress post for Parts 5 & 6

Wish me luck!

Or Hardwick Halls I should say, there being the Old Hall (a ruin) and the New Hall (famous Elizabethan pile with its own rhyme – “Hardwick Hall, more glass than wall”). The picture shows the latter as seen from the top of the former.

Now, I have to declare that when it comes to the English part of our holiday this was the trip I was most looking forward to, because of my deep love of all things 16th century, which if you’ve been reading this blog over the years you will know all too well. Plus it was the home of Bess of Hardwick, a formidable woman who after marrying and surviving four husbands, being custodian of Mary Queen of Scots for part of her English imprisonment, and living to a ripe old age, tried to set up her grand-daughter Arabella Stuart as a potential heir for Elizabeth I. Didn’t work but darned good try. I have a couple of books about her which I meant to read before I came away but I ran out of time; I will be tucking into them when I get back because if I was interested before I am absolutely fascinated now.

The New Hall is magnificent, full of wonderful portraits including two of Arabella (about whom I also have a book, must find that as well).

General consensus is that Arabella had a sad life, a phrase repeated by several of the very nice National Trust people willing to chat about the various rooms we wandered through.

So, very pleased with what has been a beautifully sunny day, ideal for this sort of visit.

img001So I had such great plans for reviewing this fascinating book. There are pencilled notes and pages turned down because of quotes or references that I didn’t want to have to go looking for later. And I’ve been pondering what I want to say since I finished the book at the end of last year.

And that’s turned out to be my problem – there is just so much that could be said about this book that I don’t actually know where to start.

Divorced, Beheaded, Survived is Karen Lindsey’s feminist reinterpretation of  Henry VIII’s wives, but it also takes into account the lives of his mother, sisters, daughters and some of the other significant women at court to paint a picture of what it was like to be a woman in the Tudor era.

And as you might expect it wasn’t easy, even for those in the privileged position that many of these women held.

In her introduction, Lindsey talks about what drew her to the subject, and the realisation that the modern topic of sexual harassment in the workplace could be relevant here. After all, if you consider being lady-in-waiting to the Queen as a job, then the unwelcome attentions of the King were very much in the harassment mould. And certainly over time the focus of largely male historians has been on poor old Henry having all these wanton young women thrust at him, and under those circumstances what’s a man to do?

 The fact that most of these women were positioned at court by their ambitious families hoping that their girl would catch Henry’s eye and attract a good marriage as a former mistress of the King has been, if not overlooked, then certainly not given the prominence by earlier historians that it perhaps should have. But one of the great benefits of women’s studies is that their voices are heard, however faintly.

Those of you who visit here regularly will know that the sixteenth century is the period of history that holds my attention the most, and that is largely because of the women who were prominent in the period – Mary, Queen of Scots, Catherine de Medici, Mary Tudor and my great heroine Elizabeth I. So I found this book totally captivating and thought-provoking. It has given me a new insight inot the life of Catherine of Aragon, and made me want to find out more about Anne of Cleves, who really was the survivor of the bunch.

And lord, if I didn’t know before what a monster Henry was, I certainly do now!

I can’t recommend this too highly if you are at all interested in this period, or court politics, or women’s lives in general. There is much to think about.

And this is my first read for the Women Unbound Challenge.

So Christmas 2009 – not quite what I had expected. Stinking cold from 19 December onwards meant that I had little or no voice for significant parts of the holiday season (cheers all round from family, friends and co-workers as you might imagine) and I was also working most of the time (including part of Christmas Eve though I did give in to my cold around lunchtime). Christmas Day itself – opened presents, fell asleep for most of the day, dinner wonderful but late. That’s the advantage of just the two of us on the day, we can play it by ear and only have ourselves to please.

Main highlights so far:

  • The Gruffalo on Christmas Day was the surprising TV highlight for me – really sweet and very nicely done
  • Dr Who – well, a bit disappointing but I’m reserving my judgement until I’ve seen part two as this was so obviously a first-part-setting-up-the-big-denoument episode; but David Tennant was as lovely as ever, especially when he looked like he was going to cry….
  • Sherlock Holmes – the big Christmas movie outing – great fun, will review over on Screen God shortly

But what of the presents? Well, bookwise I did quite well:

  • Vintage Handbags by Marnie Fogg – almost obscene in its wonderfulness, a big glossy history of handbags from the 1920s, I am going to be dipping into this one a lot
  • The Crimson Rooms by Katharine McMahon – asked for this simply because I loved the cover
  • Under the Dome by Stephen King – well, couldn’t resist asking for this one then completely forgot about it; when given the package to unwrap I thought “don’t remember asking for anything this big” – should have known!
  • Martyrs and Murderers: the Guise Family and the Making of Europe by Stuart Carroll – sixteenth century, what can I say?
  • Anne of Cleves: Henry VIII’s Discarded bride by Elizabeth Norton – ditto
  • The Great Silence 1918-1920 by Juliet Nicolson – the period just after the end of WWI and its impact on the social fabric, looks fascinating
  • Strange Days Indeed by Francis Wheen – a history of the 1970s which I am really looking forward to reading, given that it covers the decade when I was a teenager
  • Alice in Wonderland, illustrated by Rodney Matthews – when I was a student I was much more of a Roger Dean fan but I’ve come to appreciate Matthews more over the years and this is a beautiful volume
  • The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, illustrated by Hunt Emerson – a graphic novel version of one of my favourite poems
  • Amphigorey: fifteen books by Edward Gorey – huge Gorey fan, ’nuff said
  • Angel With Two Faces by Nicola Upson – sequel to her earlier Josephine Tey crime story
  • Tamsin by Peter S Beagle – picked up from other blogs
  • The Looking Glass Wars by Frank Beddor – ditto
  • Dark Harvest by Norman Partridge – just loved the cover
  • Lovecraft Unbound, edited by Ellen Datlow – Joyce Carol Oates does Lovecraft, worth it for that alone
  • Boneshaker by Cherie Priest – steampunk, really been looking forward to this one
  • Vanessa and Virginia by Susan Sellars – and a bit of Bloomsbury to round things off

So that lot should keep me busy for a while……

wu_button2So after yesterday’s post it seems a bit surprising to be writing about another challenge, but this one looks too good to resist. Women Unbound runs from 1 November 2009 until 30 November 2010 and involves reading both fiction and non-fiction from the field of women’s studies.

I’m aiming for Bluestocking (at least five books including at least two non-fiction) but hoping to hit Suffragette (at least eight books including at least three non-fiction) and I’m almost certainly going to be reading only non-fiction, partly because I don’t read enough of it anyway, but mostly because I’m not sure what actually constitutes a feminist novel.

My proposed booklist is (in no particular order):

So there we have it. Not surprisingly from me, lots of sixteenth century related biographies buried in there, bit of literary stuff as well, tiny wee bit of politics, in fact a pretty reasonable spread which even I with my poor record should be able to get through in a year. Not holding my breath though.

And there is a start-up meme:

1. What does feminism mean to you? Does it have to do with the work sphere? The social sphere? How you dress? How you act?  Crumbs, where to start? Well, I was born at the beginning of 1962 so by the time I was a teenager there had been huge changes in the expectations I (and my parents) had for my future compared to what my mother (who was born in 1941)  could expect. I think feminism has to relate to all of the above and totally and utterly revolves around choice. There are no right answers for women (as there aren’t for men, to be fair). You have to do what’s best for you and your own personal situation, and should be allowed to do so without criticism.  If only.

2. Do you consider yourself a feminist? Why or why not?  I definitely do consider myself a feminist and have done so for over thirty years (and lord just typing that makes me feel pretty ancient). I blame Virginia Woolf and A Room of One’s Own which I read just after I started university at the end of the 1970s. But it’s important to me that being a feminist doesn’t mean you can’t do the fashion thing ( as one look at my shoe and handbag collection will testify) and a sense of humour is an absolute necessity.

3. What do you consider the biggest obstacle women face in the world today?  Has that obstacle changed over time, or does it basically remain the same? I think this very much depends on what part of the world you are living in. In my bit of western Europe it’s about choice and things like body image and the expectations we put on young women in particular as a society. Elsewhere it’s the fundamentals of access to the democratic process, access to education; really basic stuff which some of us take for granted.

bookshopWhat can I say? Despite my best intentions to cut down on buying this year, August and September (so far) have been totally booktastic.

Crime-type stuff

History-type stuff

  • The Cecils by David Loades – the family business of the Cecils was supporting Elizabeth I who said “No prince in Europe hath such a counsellor as I have in mine” Just my kind of 16th century thing;
  • Prince Rupert  by Charles Spencer – all about the Last Cavalier, if his portrait is anything to go by he was pretty handsome, had (I believe) a giant poodle called Boy as a hunting dog, pretty cool guy;
  • Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel – a novel about Henry VIII’s right-hand man Thomas Cromwell, Man Booker nominated, looks astonishing.

Sci-fi type stuff

  • Transition by Iain Banks – I know that this is being marketed in the UK as straight and not sci-fi but at the very least this is a crossover novel as it seems to have lots to do with parallel universes. I don’t care what they call it, it’s going to be good;
  • Halfhead by Stuart B MacBride – so I love the Bearded Writist’s gory Aberdonian crime novels and this foray into sort of sci-fi thriller looks very interesting; and there’s a Banks-type differentiating middle initial going on as well.

Miscellaneous

  • Muriel Spark by Martin Stannard – the biography – my admiration for Mrs Spark is unbounded, I should really re-start the Muriel Reading Marathon which faltered last year….. ;
  • A Book of Silence by Sara Maitland – all about silence, a very enjoyable writer, looking forward to what this will cover;
  • Love All by Elizabeth Jane Howard – ‘an unforgettable novel about love and the consequences of its absence’ it says on the cover.

Oh-lord-what-did-I-think-would-happen-if-I-went-to-Forbidden Planet

So having introduced the Silvery Dude to the Night’s Dawn trilogy by encouraging him to take the first volume on holiday with him, I agreed to accompany him to FP to get volume two, despite the whole Twilight/District 9 thing that we’ve been bickering about (he wants me to watch the former and saw the latter before I did much to my annoyance). Anyhoo, I hadn’t planned to do anything other than buy Gary Gibson’s Nova War for the Book God, but of course it didn’t stop there….

  • The Boy with the Cuckoo-Clock Heart by Mathias Malzieu – translated from the French, this is a fairytale set in Edinburgh in 1874 and I picked it up totally because of the cover;
  • Half-Minute Horrors – ‘a collection of instant frights from the world’s most astonishing authors and artists’ – including Neil Gaiman, just a bit of fun;
  • Edgar Allan Poe’s Tales of Death and Dementia, illustrated by the great Gris Grimly, which was the sole reason for buying it as I have a lot of Poe kicking around already (if I can put it like that).

Bride of the Book God

Follow brideofthebook on Twitter

Scottish, in my fifties, love books but not always able to find the time to read them as much as I would like. I’m based in London and happily married to the Book God.

I also blog at Bride of the Screen God (all about movies and TV) and The Dowager Bride, if you are interested in ramblings about stuff of little consequence

If you would like to get in touch you can contact me at brideofthebookgod (at) btinternet (dot) com.

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