Monday, July 16, 2012

Historical fictions

Portrait of Anne Boleyn, Henry's second queen;...
In a recent Newsweek article, Hilary Mantel named her favorite historical novels: J.G. Farrell's The Siege of Krishnapur, Thomas Flanagan's The Year of the French, and Chinua Achebee's Things Fall Apart — all of which we've stocked, per her recommendation. Mantel is the Man Booker Prize–winning author of Wolf Hall, which tells of the concomitant rise of Cromwell and of Anne Boleyn at the court of Henry VIII, and Bring Up the Bodies, the just-published sequel in her Cromwell trilogy, which details the bloody aftermath (we have both, at a most excellent sale price). Cromwell as imagined by Mantel has few equals in literature, and I'm eager to dive into Book II. Here's a passage from it.
When he hears the shout of 'Fire!' he turns over and swims back into his dream. He supposes the conflagration is a dream; it's the sort he has. Then he wakes to Christophe bellowing in his ear. 'Get up! The queen is on fire.' He is out of bed. The cold slices into him. Christophe yells, 'Quick, quick! She is totally incinerated.'
Moments later, when he arrives on the Queen's floor, he finds the smell of singed cloth heavy in the air, and Anne surrounded by gibbering women, but unhurt, in a chair, wrapped in black silk, with a chalice of warmed wine in her hands. The cup jiggles, spills a little, Henry is tearful, hugging her, and his heir who is inside her. 'If only I had been with you, sweetheart. If only I had spent the night. I could have put you out of danger in an instant.'
On and on he goes. Thank the Lord God who watches over us. Thank the God who protects England. If only I. With a blanket, a quilt, stifling them. I in an instant, beating out the flames.
Anne takes a gulp of her wine. 'It is over. I am not harmed. Please, my lord husband. Peace. Let me drink this.' He sees, in a flash, how Henry irritates her; his solicitude, his doting, his clinging. And in the depth of a January night she can't disguise the irritation. She looks grey, her sleep broken.
She looks to him, Cromwell, and speaks in French. 'There is a prophecy that a Queen of England will be burned. I do not think it meant in her own bed. It was an unattended candle. Or so one assumes.'


  1. I'm confused. Who is "he"? Who is the narrator? How is Anne Boleyn mixed up with Oliver Cromwell? The two are separated by nearly a century. The story of Cromwell is fascinating enough. How it makes us grateful for the existence of a working Constitution, that we avoided the violations of Charles I and the unprecedented struggles of Cromwell both for and against Parliament!
    I think I'd better stay with Daedalus's ample history offerings, and keep my fiction fictional.

    1. Maybe you're thinking of the later Cromwell.

    2. I think she means the money-grubbing tool of Cardinal Wolsey, Thomas, isn't it? Beheaded, wasn't he? Another Earl of Essex for the axman.

    3. Reid got the idea from the labels.

    4. Oh right; curse you autofill! It is Thomas Cromwell... I fixed it.

  2. I was a couple of years late but I read Wolf Hall a few months back. Stellar historical fiction which, in my opinion, is extremely difficult to master. Her latest is on my ever-growing list/stack of summer reads. Inaccuracies aside, Mantel's at the top of the heap...

  3. I am obsessed with this time period in England and love to read about it and hear new facts I don't already know about Henry VIII and Queen Elizabeth I and Queen Mary and Anne Boelyn. I havent found a good historical fiction about the wives that came after Anne Boelyn I feel like that would be a new look in to that time period especially if its being told from Diary 1st person. I have bought Wolf Hall and cant wait until I have time to actually read it! My summer reading list is miles long!