Charlotte Reads Classics

Slowly, slowly, she sipped a sentence.

Tag: Wolf Hall

Reading Schedules and Other Misadventures

I haven’t been posting very much because I have spent my time (productively) reading – probably one of my better excuses! I had three books to tackle for specific dates but I had forgotten how plans are more fun to make than to follow. The last eleven days or so have been working to this list:

  • Clarissa, Letters 81-160, by April 30th, so as to not get left behind
  • As I Lay Dying, for a book club meeting tomorrow
  • Wolf Hall, by today, ready for the release of Bring Up the Bodies tomorrow

I’ve done it! The April chunk of Clarissa was finished at about 11.30pm on April 30th, I finished As I Lay Dying exactly a week ago, and I finished Wolf Hall about half an hour ago. Hurrah, now some writing to wind down / wrap up. Please excuse the mingling of books: I can’t face writing three separate posts.

Clarissa, Letters 81 – 160, April 6th – April 30th

Clarissa is finally out of the house! She had been kept inside being a disappointment to her family since I began the book back in January, which is a claustrophobic kind of feeling that I think I would have missed if I hadn’t been reading along with the dates. I don’t think I’d have been a very patient correspondent though, her attitude towards Lovelace and her tendency to miss what seems (to the modern reader) incredibly obvious is frustrating to say the least. I’m actually quite pleased to have a scoundrel in the book because otherwise the sheer good-naturedness of Clarissa herself would be a little too hard to bear. I’m pleased that there is a bit more action, but I think I need to devote a little bit more time to this book before it turns into a chore. Maybe I’m just not cut out for two timing my books!

Wolf Hall, Hilary Mantel

This is my second read of Wolf Hall: I loved it the first time, but I adore it so much more now. I’m really glad I read this book again, not just so I’ll know where the second book will be picking up from, but because I got so much more from it. Yes, there were still a bajillion characters called Thomas but I was ready for them. I knew they were hiding in the woodwork so they didn’t catch me unaware.

I felt I really got to grips with the detail of the book and picked up on parts that completely overwhelmed me during my first read. There was more humour, more memories, more texture than I remembered from last time. I could just ramble about how brilliant a writer Hilary Mantel is – she’s up there as one of my absolute favourites. Read her books! Read them now!

You can have silence full of words. A lute retains, in its bowl, the notes it has played. The viol, in its strings, holds a concord. A shrivelled petal can hold it’s scent, a prayer can rattle with curses; an empty house, when the owners have gone out, can still be loud with ghosts.

Sigh.

The wait is nearly over. Bring Up the Bodies is out tomorrow, I’m SO EXCITED.

In other literary news, I have recently read (although not a classic) The Light Between Oceans by M. L. Stedman, and was lucky enough to meet her last week! I solemnly swear to write about it properly very soon. But the book was great and M. L. was lovely and very interesting to talk to.

Bliss and Blood

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.

A Hell of a Lot of Thomases

Wolf Hall, Hilary Mantel

Hilary Mantel should always write historical fiction. She knows her stuff! This wasn’t a quick read, but I loved it. Much less frivolous than A Place of Greater Safety, but not dry or dense. Even the title of this book is interesting: Wolf Hall (or Wulf Hall) was the ancestral home of the Seymour family in the 1500s – home to Jane Seymour, who eventually becomes Henry VIII’s third wife. The historical scope of this novel only covers up to the reign of Anne Boleyn, and Wolf Hall is only really mentioned right at the end. This gives a really transient feel to the book. Hindsight tells us that this is not where the story ends – everything is in constant flux and people are continually jockeying for position and favour.

The novel covers Thomas Cromwell’s rise from an ambiguous start to becoming Henry VIII’s chief advisor, and follows his relationships with figures like Thomas More and Cardinal Wolsey. I love Hilary Mantel’s historical fiction because she can turn people from history into very authentic (or at the very least believable) characters: they are more than what we learn from our textbooks.

No More Procrastinating


I had a really excellent morning.

“The stars are stifled in damp and cloud.”

“He looks down at them and arranges his face. Erasmus says that you must do this each morning before you leave your house: ‘put on a mask, as it were.’”

“The world is not run from where he thinks. Not from his border fortresses, not even from Whitehall. The world is run from Antwerp, from Florence, from places he has never imagined; from Lisbon, from where the ships with sails of silk drift west and are burned up in the sun. Not from castle walls, but from counting houses, not by the call of the bugle but by the click of the abacus, not by the grate and click of the mechanism of the gun but by the scrape of the pen on the page of the promissory note that pays for the gun and the gunsmith and the powder and shot.”