Don’t fly off the handle but I’m right off the Mantel

Doesn’t even rhyme, mate. It’s man tell not mantle.

Fine. Whatever…

So, right, hear me out, I like Hilary Mantel, I do, I really do, she’s great, but…

…I struggle with kings and queens and all that lot. Sorry. I have never really grasped the appeal of Henry VIII, you know, as a thing. I’m no historian but I get the impression that he was probably a bit of a wanker. Sure, I get that his thinking with his knob indirectly led to the formation of the Church of England or something and that that’s, like, culturally important but I don’t really give two hoots about the church or other people knobbing any more than I do about kings and queens. So what’s in it for me? Eh?

None of this was a problem ten years ago when I read Wolf Hall because Wolf Hall is great. It was easy to put aside my prejudices for a few hours and just enjoy a good old read. Then. However…

…because I don’t care about any of the historical stuff, by the time Bring Up the Bodies came out I couldn’t remember a single thing that had happened in Wolf Hall or who anyone was. And, be fair guys, at least seventy percent of the characters in the book are called Thomas. I know that’s nobody’s fault but, you know, come on.

I realised I would need to re-read Wolf Hall before I read Bring Up the Bodies. I also worked out that when the third one was released I would need to repeat the process so I decided to cut out the middleman, wait for The Mirror & The Light, and read all three in one big go. Lovely.

And I have to say, the world hasn’t exactly made this difficult for me. I borrowed Bring Up the Bodies and The Mirror & The Light from the library just before the world ground to a halt. I am quarantined with all three volumes of the saga of whichever Thomas or other the books are about. Plenty of time to get them read.

But I couldn’t do it.

I got about a hundred pages into Wolf Hall before realising I just don’t care. It’s still brilliant, obviously it’s still brilliant, but when I got to the bit when Thomas Cromwell and Cardinal Thomas and some lords or other, most of whom were called Thomas, I think, did something with a necklace (and a horse?) I found myself drifting away from the text and toward what I might like for my tea. I thought, jacket potatoes? With cheese? What cheese have we got?

Maybe it’s Brexit. Maybe becoming overly involved in the machinations of government for the last four years left me with little taste for any more of that Machiavellian nonsense? Maybe. Maybe I’m just dumber than I was a decade ago? That’s certainly possible. Maybe both things? Maybe it’s just timing. Maybe these unusual times leave me wanting other stories, other types of stories? I dunno.

Whatever the reason it’s definitely me, not Hilary Mantel who is at fault. I would like to be clear about that.

I do feel guilty for not finding all this out before the libraries closed though. Somebody else is missing out because of me. That’s the real crime here. I have ruined a stranger’s lockdown with my fickleness and for that, I apologise.


1 Comment

  1. I’m largely with you – I admire the writing and I like Mantel’s leftwing contrariness but the trilogy obeys the original rules of tragedy: that it has to happen to ‘great’ people. If you think (like you and me) that they’re all bloodsucking vultures it’s hard to care about the nuances of the ways they negotiate power because none of them should have been anywhere near the stuff.

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