Bliss and Blood

by Charlotte Reads Classics

Being mostly a classics reader, there aren’t many brand new books I covet. However, Bring Up the Bodies, the sequel to Wolf Hall, is a date marked in my diary. (Yes, really.) Alas, the publication date isn’t for another two months, so that means reading other books by Hilary Mantel in preparation.

The Giant, O’Brien is the last (I think) of Mantel’s historical novels I had left to read. It’s a mix of science and superstition, set in eighteenth century Ireland. A rag tag band of men cross the Irish Sea to seek their fortune. With them is the Giant, Charles O’Brien, who has a kind of trade as a storyteller.

He mixed his tales like this: bliss and blood. The roof of gingerbread, then the slinking arrival of a wolf with a sweet tooth. The white-skinned, well-fleshed woman who turns to bone beneath a man’s caress; the lake where gold pieces bob, that drowns all who fish for them. Merit gains no reward, or duty done; the lucky prosper, and any of us could be that.

I didn’t find this book quite as accessible as her other novels, perhaps because it kept going off in unexpected directions. I felt that the plot was hidden by the language: as usual she has a beautiful turn of phrase, but sometimes that stood in the way of simplicity. Putting that to one side though, I did enjoy this book. The eighteenth century was coming alive in a way that made me appreciate just how difficult it was to survive back then. The historical detail, as you would expect, fascinating; especially when it comes to medicine and how scientific experiments were conducted (stealing bodies was something of an art form)!

Writing about The Giant, O’Brien has been tricky, because it left a feeling rather than something concrete. I’ll have to try some non-historical Hilary Mantel novels, not to mention a re-read of Wolf Hall.