I need to write this before the list of books I’ve read since I last did a ‘reading’ post gets any longer. I’d say also that I need to do this before I forget, but it’s too late for that for some of these titles already, so forgive me if this is not as in depth as some of my previous posts, especially when it comes to the Hilary Mantel books that really deserve more words than I can muster.
Hilary Mantel – Bring Up The Bodies is the wonderful sequel to Wolf Hall and earned Mantel a second Man Booker Prize. It is less sprawling than the first book and covers the dramatic trial of the Anne Boleyn, the second wife of King Henry VIII, and her alleged suitors in 1536 for treason and adultery. Again the story revolves around Thomas Cromwell as he continues to rise in power within the Tudor court. He must ally himself with his enemies, the papists within the court, to deliver the King what he wants – freedom to marry again. It’s a great book. I enjoyed it just as much as Wolf Hall. I’ll let Mantel tell you some more:
Hilary Mantel – The Mirror & the Light is the final book in the Wolf Hall trilogy and begins the story immediately where it left off in Bring Up The Bodies. This is beast of a book – the paperback runs to 867 pages. I couldn’t take it with me on holiday as it weighed the same as about three other paperbacks, so I put it on hold at around midway, and instead read these books – Holiday Books 2022 – and To be Taught if Fortunate (see below) before resuming. The story takes us from 1536 to 1540 when Thomas Cromwell found he had flown too close to the sun, or the mirror and the light in the form of Henry Tudor, and fell from favour, and was summarily executed.
It’s a tragic story, full of court intrigue and rumour-mongering and Cromwell is rather blind-sided when he is arrested and dragged off to the Tower of London. Henry marries Jane Seymour and in 1537, becomes the proud father of male heir Prince Edward, but Jane falls ill and dies two weeks after the birth. After a period of mourning, Cromwell then arranges Henry’s ill-fated marriage to Anne of Cleves. However, when Henry meets Anne for the first time they both take an instant dislike to each other. The wedding goes ahead but is annulled a few weeks later. Cromwell falls ill and it is this misfire and his absence from court that is seized as an opportunity by his rivals to pull him down from his lofty position.
The book is the most meandering of the three and makes you wonder if the double-Booker author was giving more leeway by her editor for the final novel. As a result I didn’t enjoy it as much as the previous two, but am obviously glad I read it. It still contained some of the best passages of prose I have had the privilege to read.
Becky Chambers – To be Taught if Fortunate: A Novella was a short Kindle book I had downloaded sometime ago and almost forgotten about, after finishing Record of a Spaceborn Few. You could say it’s set in the same universe as her Wayfarer trilogy, but it’s not really connected in any way. The story, told from the point of view of female astronaut Ariadne, follows the crew of a far-flung interstellar research vessel on a mission to visit four planets and gather data while the Earth goes through various stages of development and collapse. The four space explorers are put into cryogenic hibernation tanks for extended periods of time while they travel between the planets and between their visits their bodies are modified for the environments they will encounter as they search for extra-terrestrial life and get further and further away from returning to Earth. it’s pretty classic sci-fi fodder that Chambers puts her millennial stamp on and also introduces this idea of body-modification to suit the challenges at hand.
Stephen King – Elevation (also a novella) struck me initially as an exploration by the author of the other path on a fork in the narrative road which previously led to his writing of Thinner (as Richard Bachman) the classic tale of a gypsy curse on a man who gets thinner and thinner. This short tale involves a man who physically shows no sign of weight loss but who when he steps on his bathroom scales can see he is getting lighter and lighter. And the phenomenon goes beyond this – when he fills his pockets full of heavy coins, the scales don’t budge from their initial reading. Over the course of the story, he gets lighter and lighter, until, well I’ll let you find out. It’s a great read for a long afternoon sitting in the sun, or a couple of nights before you go to sleep, or you could get it as an Audiobook and listen to the King himself:
Charles Bukowski – Pulp is a spoof of the hard-boiled detective novels of Raymond Chandler and his ilk. It tells the story of hard-drinking hard-living private eye Nicky Belane and his rather slap-dash approach to investigating three absurd cases that come his way. There is the case given to him by Lady Death (yes, you guessed she is actually Death in true Terry Pratchett or Neil Gaiman anthropomorphic style) to track down and confirm the identity of the French writer Celine who has been dead for years. There is the case of a sexy body-snatching alien called Jeannie Nitro who has the power to freeze men in their footsteps. And finally there is the hunt for something or someone called the red sparrow, which has no connection to the film of the same title and is rather a piss take of Dashiell Hammet’s Maltese Falcon.
Bukowski’s semi-autobiographical alcoholic postman has a couple of cameos, but this book for all it’s bizarreness is a far more enjoyable read than his other books. Yes there’s still that deplorable attitude toward women on the page, but this story is a lot more fun that his other fiction which I have to say, having now read pretty much all of it, seems to be over-rated.
Richard Osman – The Thursday Murder Club is a book I’ve been curious to lay my hands on for some time. I see the author a lot on British TV and he always comes across as having a good sense of humour and an intelligence lacking in many quiz show presenters. So having gone so far as ordering it as part of an online Tesco’s shop during lockdown and being told it was out of stock, it was nice to finally come across it as a book-swap Siggy did while we were on holiday in Greece this year. We both thought it was very enjoyable. I don’t need to tell you any more because I found this YouTube video of the Osman himself telling Oz men and women about it: