This year I read 38 books – about same as last year, although it felt like less because of three massive Mantel (sadly RIP) books. Here’s a post about my Top 5 books I have the pleasure of reading this year with some spoilers and links to longer reviews. These are presented in the order in which I rate them:
Hilary Mantel – Wolf Hall
This is a Man Booker Prize winning historical novel which treats the reader to a highly historically-accurate yet fictional account of the rapid rise to power of Henry VIII’s chief advisor Thomas Cromwell. I read it after bemoaning the fact that I had run out of Bernard Cornwell books to read. There’s no real comparison to be made between the two authors. Hilary Mantel stands in a class of her own. This and it’s sequel are two of the best books I have ever read.
Wolf Hall is set in the period 1500-1535 during the reign of Henry VIII of England, and begins with Cromwell as a young runaway escaping the fists of his abusive father. He goes to France to seek a living as a soldier and by 1527 he has travelled widely across Europe and worked his way up through various manual, clerical, legal and accounting jobs, spending a notably long time in Italy before returning to England.
Hilary Mantel – Bring Up The Bodies
This 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.
Madeline Miller – Circe
Circe is the daughter of the powerful Greek sun god Helios and the beautiful ocean nymph Perse. But Circe, though born from a Titan, does not possess any magical abilities in her youth. It is only when she investigates the fascinating land of the mortals that she discovers that she does possess the abilities of a witch – to gather up rare herbs and mix them into powerful potions and speak incantations that can transform flesh.
The book really gets going when, feeling threatened by Helios’s daughters new found powers, bearded boss god Zeus banishes Circe to the remote island of Aeaea. Here in splendid isolation she creates her own private world and creates a garden full of the plants she needs to learn more witchcraft and hone her skills. However, it’s not long before visitors arrive to the island. These include Daedalus (who created the maze for the Minotaur and whose son Icarus famously came a cropper when he flew too close to the sun) and Odysseus, both of whom Circe takes a liking to despite knowing that eventually they will leave her island. Circe also has siblings and a son to deal with and the story wouldn’t be much of a Greek tale if there weren’t wrathful gods, tricky mortals and internecine rivalries wherever she looks.
Quentin Tarantino – Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
This novel, I soon discovered upon reading, is not a straight beat-for-beat retelling of the wonderful movie of the same title. The shocking surprise ending of the movie is mentioned in passing within the first 100 pages of the book – leaving me scratching my head and wondering what the heck this book was really going to be about. And that, dear friends, was the joy in reading this version of the story.
The book ends with TV actor Rick Dalton yet to venture to Italy to make a string of Spaghetti Westerns (and meet his new wife) and instead ends with him in the middle of filming the TV pilot for the new Lancer show in which he plays the villain and where he meets the precocious child actor Trudi. He’s running his lines with her on the phone while next door Sharon Tate and Roman Polanski are having a rowdy pool party. Earlier he reminisced with Steve McQueen waiting at the Polanski’s gate, about shooting pool at a bar, they played three games, won one each and didn’t finish the third because McQueen was called away. After the chat with McQueen and the call with Trudi, Rick finally realises how lucky he is. This is some form of character arc I guess, since Rick has spent most of the book struggling to come to terms with where his career is at.
Bob Mortimer – And Away
This is an autobiography by Vic Reeves’s comedy partner, who is fast becoming a national treasure, thanks to his successful fishing show with Paul Whitehouse. Bob’s very candid story of his life is at turns endearing, touching and a little sad, but most of all very funny. I enjoyed it rather more than Adam Buxton’s similar (in that he was once part of a popular comedy duo) autobiography Ramble Book.
I don’t think Bob knows how not to be funny even when he’s describing the horrible job he once did at a chicken factory. The book had me genuinely laughing out loud a few times and tittering to myself on several more occasions. Definitely a good choice of book for reading while I was on holiday in Greece – the writing style is very conversational and the structure is good in that every other chapter jumps back the present where he is dealing with the after effects of heart surgery.
I don’t have too much time for browsing any more. Your recommendations appeal. I’ll have to start with Hilary Mantel, and Madeline Miller’s Circe sounds just the ticket. I anticipate a pleasurable bit of summer reading. Thanks.