Thursday, January 30, 2014

375 (2014 #3). Bring Up the Bodies

by Hilary Mantel, 
read by Simon Vance

Bring Up the Bodies continues the novelization of the life of Thomas Cromwell, chief minister to King Henry VIII of England from 1532 to 1540.  In this 2012 Man Booker Prize-winning sequel to Hilary Mantel's 2009 Booker winning Wolf Hall, the brief period of September 1535 to summer 1536 is covered.  Mantel tells the well-known story of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn from another viewpoint.

In her author's note at the end of her book, Hilary Mantel says, "In this book I try to show how a few crucial weeks might have looked from Thomas Cromwell's point of view.  I am not claiming authority for my version; I am making the reader a proposal, an offer.  Some familiar aspects of the story are not to be found in this novel."

While writing about Anne's last days and reviewing historical sources, Mantel saw the legal phrase, “Bring up the bodies” (the command to the jailer to bring to their trial those who, because they are accused of treason, are regarded as already dead), “and they jumped off the page. And at that point I thought, I have a book, and I have a title, and it ends with Anne’s death,” Mantel said in a May 7, 2012 Telegraph interview.  The title first appears in the text on page 364 in the hardcover edition, just 43 pages before its end.

Cromwell is not as likeable in this novel as he was in Wolf Hall.  He is feeling his power, and the memories of his dead wife and daughters are fading.  By the end, he's starting to sound like Henry, wondering if his wife was always faithful to him and if his youngest daughter was truly his.  There is a clever but menacing device in the book that relates back to an incident in Wolf Hall, that shows why Cromwell may have targeted four of the five men accused as Anne's lovers.

The incomparable Simon Vance narrates this audiobook, and makes it easy to distinguish between characters.  Like Wolf Hall in 2010, this audiobook also won the Audie Award for Literary Fiction in 2013. Once again, the print version has the advantage of a table of contents, list of characters, and family trees for the Tudors and the Yorkist claimants to the throne.  A map would have been helpful for those of us not as familiar with England.
 

The cover on the audiobook and the hardbound edition I used has a portion of a portrait of Anne Boleyn on it.  However, I prefer the cover pictured to the right.  The book begins at Wolf Hall, the family home of Henry's current infatuation, Jane Seymour, with Cromwell out hunting with falcons named for his dead daughters, wife, and sisters.  I think it's a more fitting image, especially with the title.   I have to wonder if Cromwell really gave his birds those names, for Mantel says (in the same interview mentioned above) that “I try to make up as little as possible.”

© Amanda Pape - 2014

[The audiobook was borrowed and returned to my university library, while a print copy for reference was borrowed and returned to my local public library.]

Thursday, January 23, 2014

374 (2014 #2). The Full Moon Bride

by Shobhan Bantwal

This book was the January selection for my local book club.  It's about 30-year-old Indian-American lawyer Soorya Giri, who still lives at home with her immigrant parents, her wealthy doctor father and his wife.  Soorya doesn't consider herself attractive - she's on a diet throughout the book, which she constantly (and irritatingly) refers to - and consents to "bride viewings" in an effort to get married.

These don't go well until she meets Rajesh "Roger" Vadepalli, to whom she is instantly attracted.  She thinks he's just after her family's money, though, since Roger isn't the typical Indian-American male pursuing a lucrative career in medicine, law, engineering, or computer science.  He wants to produce plays.

The romance plot line is somewhat predictable,  but I enjoyed learning more about Indian-American culture.  Soorya is a very human character who gets a bit sarcastic when she thinks the worst of others.  It was refreshing to see that other cultures - Indian-American in this case - have their own prejudices against the (so-called majority) whites as well as other races, after reading so many books where whites are always painted as the villains. 

Author Shobhan Bantwal was born and raised in India and came to the United States when she was a young bride in an arranged marriage.  She certain understands and can relate the cultural conflicts of immigrant Indian-Americans and their US-born offspring.  Her website says, "Welcome to Bollywood in a book!" and that's what this is - a light, entertaining read.  Not a lot to discuss in book club, but a perfect book to read during or just after a vacation.

© Amanda Pape - 2014

[This book was borrowed and returned via interlibrary loan.]

Thursday, January 16, 2014

373 (2014 #1). Paris

by Edward Rutherfurd

I was on a cruise last week and I decided to take my new Kindle instead of a stack of books.  This was one of the titles I borrowed from my local public library to read on the cruise, and the only one I finished (the print book is 832 pages).

Edward Rutherfurd, who has written other historical novels about countries (Russia, England) and major cities (New York, Dublin), intertwines facts and real people (such as the Hemingways) with fictional characters and events in this novel about Paris that spans the period of 1261 to 1968.  Most of the action takes place from 1875 to 1940, however.

Rutherfurd presents Paris history through the lives of members of six families through the ages: the aristocratic de Cygnes, the merchant/middle-class Renards and Blanchards, the working-class Le Sourds and Gascons, and a Jewish family where all the males are named Jacob.  Even in the other families, it can get confusing, because first names often repeat in later generations.

There's a family tree chart near the beginning of the book, but it's hard to view on a smaller Kindle.  After reading the book, I discovered I could have downloaded an 8.5" x 14" copy of the chart via the preview function at Amazon.com.  You can also get the chart on the author's web page for the book, along with maps of old and modern Paris.  I wish I'd had these tools available while I was reading the book - which is why I'm mentioning them here.

My favorite character was Thomas Gascon, probably because he was involved in my favorite storyline, about the building of the Eiffel Tower.  That was fascinating!  Rutherfurd included lots of details about its construction that really brought these parts of the book to life.  He researched interesting facts and then put his characters in some of the scenes - for example, Thomas is the leader of the group who cuts the elevator cables on the Eiffel Tower in 1940 so Hitler can't go up and view the city he's just overrun.

Other than being a little confused about the characters - particularly since the story jumps back and forth in time - I enjoyed this book.  It should be noted that I have never been to Paris, nor am I very familiar with the history of that city or of France (other than some biographical novels about Josephine and Desiree, where I learned a little about the French Revolution, the Terror, and the Napoleonic era).  I'm not sure if one would appreciate this book more with such familiarity and knowledge, or be inclined to criticize it.  As for me, I enjoyed the book, and I learned a lot I didn't know about Paris.  I will try some of Rutherfurd's other books in the future.

© Amanda Pape - 2014

[This e-book was borrowed from and returned to my local public library.]

Friday, January 03, 2014

372 (2013 #56). Helen of Troy

by Margaret George

Another of Margaret George's lengthy works of fiction (this one was 611 pages), this time she tackles a mythological character rather than a real person.  Hence, I can't really classify it as historical fiction, although it's very similar in style to the two other books I've read by George (both historical fiction / biographical novels).

There are many variations in the retellings of Helen's story; thus George can pick and choose what she wants to include.  Since this is mythology, there are no "facts" to worry about.  For example, George completely leaves out Helen's abduction by Theseus in her youth.  She is also deliberately vague on whether or not Zeus is Helen's father.  These choices by the author humanize Helen and make her seem like a rather normal (but beautiful) woman.

Helen tells her own story in first person, and has an inconsistent gift of foresight.  This comes in handy, for at times George uses dreams or vision sequences to bring in parts of the tale of which Helen would otherwise have no knowledge.

Much of the book is taken up with long passages about the battles and siege of Troy.  This part got rather repetitious and could have been shortened, in my opinion.  It's hard enough to slog through the book with most of the characters being rather unlikeable.  Helen is rather naive, expressing surprise at the mess she has stirred up by running away with Paris - well, what did you expect?  Paris is not compelling - Helen's being under a spell of Aphrodite is the only logical explanation for her continuing attraction to this pretty boy.

This book made me want to read up on the Helen myths and learn more about their variations.  However, I didn't like this book as much as George's The Autobiography of Henry VIII or The Memoirs of Cleopatra.

© Amanda Pape - 2014

[This book was borrowed from and returned to my local public library.  I actually finished this book on New Year's Day 2014, but I'm including it in my 2013 count since I read the vast majority of the book in that year.]