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Good, but is it award worthy?
on May 13, 2010
Let it be known beforehand, I have never fully understood the public's recent infatuation with the Tudors time period. I've never read "The Other Boleyn Girl," and I've only caught glances of the Tudors television series. Going into this book, I didn't have any preconceptions, and while I knew some basic characters of Henry's court by names, I didn't know much beyond that.
So, that out of the way, how did I feel about the book? Firstly, I didn't have the issues some had with Mantel's writing style; I could follow the action fairly easily after getting acquainted to it in the first chapter, and, to be honest, it was refreshing to read this type of 3rd-person narrative. Mantel has a fantastic way of describing things beyond the simple metaphor. You often find yourself imagining you can truly feel the chill of the October London streets, or even hear the voices of those having been long deceased in Thomas Cromwell's Austin Friars home. She weaves a fantastic tapestry of words, one which is a delight to feel between your fingers. Beyond this, however, is where I feel the "story" weakens.
The novel is plot-heavy. I imagine most expected this coming into it, but for me, not having read widely in the historical fiction genre, and especially not when it concerns the Tudors, this focus of plot over characterization created a gap between myself and the protagonist, Thomas Cromwell, that I found myself unable to bridge by the time I closed the book on page 650. While Mantel weaves the plot effortlessly, court intrigues and whirlwind beheadings included, I didn't find myself truly caring for the trials and tribulations of Thomas or the other characters as much as I felt I should have. For example, while Mantel did a good job of conveying the confused nature of Henry VIII in scenes where he switches from one emotion to the next based on a few choice words from certain wise-men, it felt superficial, and without lasting feeling, certain of which I require to really love a book.
Overall, while full of expert prose, a finely paced plot, and a huge cast of characters, I just didn't find myself caring about these conniving people's of Henry's court enough to state that this is a book I will remember months from now. In the true litmus test of what makes a novel great to me, I ended the book without pausing to consider the exploits of the souls that populated it. Should it have won the Booker Prize? Well ... It left me feeling slightly hollow -- while caring somewhat about Cromwell and co., unfortunately, just not caring enough.