Tag Archives: grey

Book Review: WOLF HALL

Hilary Mantel’s ninth novel won the 2009 Man Booker Prize. WOLF HALL is most of the Anne Boleyn story told from the point of view of Thomas Cromwell, Henry VIII’s chief minister in 1530s England.

I didn’t say that it was the story of the rise of Thomas Cromwell, because Mantel doesn’t really tell us much about his transformation from street urchin to statesman. Apart from the famous opening scene where we meet him at the age of fifteen being given a brutal beating by his father, we hear very little about the protagonist until the year 1529, when his mentor Thomas Wolsey, Archbishop of York, is being stripped from power.

That’s twenty-nine years that encompass his flight from England, his roaming around the continent of Europe, his marriage to Liz Wykys, the birth of his children, not to mention how he met Wolsey and was mentored by him.

Admittedly, the historical record is probably sparse. But if an author is interested in building up character, especially the motivations of the protagonist, it might have been worth while to sketch in these years, if only to show more clearly who Thomas Cromwell was.

There are some good things about this novel. Mantel has a ear for casual speech, and an eye for memorable detail. Her portrait of 16th-century England is grittily real, and I am sure these qualities impressed the Man Booker committee.

But there are some odd things about this novel, odd because Mantel is a experienced writer who had written eight novels before she started this one.

  1. Why did she write in limited third rather than first person? Why the confusing “he” that so many reviewers mention, the “he” that means that Thomas Cromwell is speaking, that could have been rendered much more clearly if it had been changed to “I”. I have never read a novel, where I have had to re-read so many of the sentences because I was so confused about who was talking. This was an easy-to-fix issue, and I am surprised that Mantel left the reader hanging in this fashion.
  2. Where is the narrative arc? This story is rife with tension, yet there is very little drama in this novel. The tone is quiet, matter-of-fact. Perhaps that is what Mantel intended, but the novel would have been much more readable if the drama had actually been dramatized.

Despite all the positive reviews, my experience was not positive. Although there were patches in the novel that were tremendously interesting (descriptions of Queen Katherine, Henry VIII, and Anne Boleyn stick in my mind) the whole work seemed impressionistic and grey, rather than vibrant and full of tension.

For these reasons, I would not recommend this novel.

–Cynthia Haggard writes novels.  She is currently seeking representation for ONE SEED SOWN, TWO MURDERS REAPED, the Richard III story told from the point of view of his mother. For more on her creative writing, go to spunstories. (c) 2010. All rights reserved.

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Book Review: Cormac McCarthy’s The Road

This is one of the saddest books I have ever read, yet I could not put it down.  McCarthy’s language is gorgeously poetic:

“He pushed away the plastic tarpaulin and raised himself in the stinking robes and blankest and looked toward the east for any light but there was none. In the dream from which he’d wakened he had wandered in a cave where the child led him by the hand. Their light playing over the wet flowstone walls…”

theroadThe book is written in very short sections, which feel like steps along the road, helping you to measure out your endurance as you travel with the man and boy in their grey world.

It is a measure of McCarthy’s achievement that this seemingly dreary journey is in fact not boring at all.  You will leave the book with an indelible image of what it is like to live in a world that has been destroyed. For those people who love literature and do not mind tackling grim issues during the Holiday Season, this is the perfect present.

–Cynthia Haggard is a medical writer and editor and lives in Washington DC.  She owns her own business, Clarifying Concepts, which provides teaching, technical writing, training, writing for the public and regulatory affairs services.  To see more, please go to clarifyingconcepts. (c) 2009 All rights reserved.

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Poem: City in the Rain

The silver rain slid down in sleek arrows
That puddled briefly on the pavement
Before washing away in the gutter

Through the thick haze of rain
I could see the grey buildings
Austere in their greyness121
Grey stone, grey rooves, grey windows,
Like old ladies with good bone structure
Their greyness enhances their beauty.

It was a cold April day
I was standing on a street corner,
Holding an umbrella,
With a pack on my back,
About to step inside one of the grey buildings
To take a French class
In Paris.

–Cynthia Haggard writes short stories, novels and poetry.  During the day, she is a medical writer and has recently opened her own business.  For more on her creative writing, go to spunstories.  For more about her medical writing services, go to clarifyingconcepts.  (c) 2008. All rights reserved.

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