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'There is no block, as you see. She must kneel upright and not move. If she is steady, it will be done in a moment.'
This is the second of Mantel's acclaimed trilogy about the life of Thomas Cromwell, chief minister to Henry VIII. Like Wolf Hall, it is intensely told in the present tense, but it concentrates on a much briefer historical period, the months leading up to the execution of Anne Boleyn in 1536. Again Mantel is very good at getting us into Cromwell's head, but I found it a less satisfying book than the previous one; there is much less variety of setting for Cromwell to Reat to - it is entirely about the sexual politics of the court, though rooted of course in the wider European context; and the most interesting person in this story is clearly Anne herself, and it is a shame that we do not really get to hear her voice (in this book or indeed in most books about the period, fiction or non-fiction). However, "not quite as good as Wolf Hall" is still pretty good.


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Apr. 11th, 2013 05:04 pm (UTC)
Mantel walks a narrow line here between humanizing Thomas Cromwell and justifying or excusing his monstrous behaviour, and I'm not always sure she stays on the right line of it. In this volume she faces the problem of how Cromwell can retain at least some of the reader's sympathy while he goes about manufacturing the charge of adultery against Anne Boleyn. She has a neat solution to this problem (the accused were complicit in the fall of Cromwell's patron Wolsey), but I found myself rebelling against it—the level of complicity is grossly disproportionate to the level of Cromwell's revenge, and the little bits of invention are just a bit too neat.

I did like the creepy way that Henry lurks in the background of the novel. If this series has any kind of message, it's an indictment of absolute monarchy. Everyone in the court tries to gain advancement by fulfilling Henry's whim, no matter how childish. Henry never has to order Anne's execution, he just hints at his desire for it to happen, and his courtiers arrange it.
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