Librarian’s Choice- my first five books of the year

A blog from Stu, a Community Librarian based in the east of the city.

In an attempt to stave off the inevitable post-Christmas comedown, I’ve been distracting myself by reading as many books as I possibly can. Here’s a rundown of the first five books I’ve read this year:

stu-temporary-gentlemenThe Temporary Gentleman by Sebastian Barry

An elegiac tale in which a retired UN weapons inspector looks back at the course of his life, and particularly the tempestuous marriage which ended with the early death of his alcoholic, mentally unstable wife. Barry is a tremendously gifted writer and the prose here is pretty much flawless, but somehow this never got going for me. I was reading page after page without really getting involved, almost as if I were waiting for the story to start properly, and I was still waiting for it to start when I turned the last page. It’s beautifully written but lacked a bit of depth for me, as if it was a 300 page synopsis of a much longer, weightier novel, but it’s still worth a look for the quality of the writing alone.

stu-daylight-gateThe Daylight Gate by Jeanette Winterson

Marvellously lurid horror from Accrington’s finest, this is a fictionalised treatment of the tale of the Pendle witches. If you know the story, most of the facts are loosely in place, although she freely admits in the preface that her Alice Nutter bears no resemblance to her real-life counterpart. It’s pretty schlocky in places – as the fact that it’s published under the Hammer imprint would suggest – but it’s still not for the faint-hearted. There’s incest, grave-robbing, torture, necromancy and black magic aplenty, not to mention a deliciously sensual lesbian love story as well. She even manages to work in an invented plot of her own – involving Shakespeare himself as well as Doctor John Dee, all of which adds real flavour to the tale. If you’ve ever enjoyed a Hammer Horror movie there’s much to like here, and for those who already know the story and want to have a bit of fun with it there’s plenty to enjoy as well.

stu-assasination-of-thatcherThe Assassination of Margaret Thatcher by Hilary Mantel

These days she’s famous for her outstanding historical novels based on the life of Thomas Cromwell, but this brilliant collection of short stories shows she’s possesses a much broader palette than that would suggest. These are fabulously dark little tales, always slightly grotesque in a Salinger or Roald Dahl-esque sort of way. They’re mostly tales of middle-class life gone awry – bored couples, failed marriages, the hideous grind of everyday life – described in tremendous prose and with a fine feel for dialogue. The title story seems to take most of the critical plaudits but my favourite is The Long QT – the shortest one in the whole set – in which a wife catches her husband in an extremely compromising position, before meeting a sticky – albeit hilarious – end. Highly recommended.

stu-where-have-you-beenWhere Have You Been? by Joseph O’Connor

More short stories, this time from one of Ireland’s greatest contemporary writers. Whereas Mantel’s stories are always slightly exaggerated, placing them just outside the realms of the completely believable, this collection is firmly rooted in real life, and it’s absolutely wonderful in places. Orchard Street, Dawn is a coruscating account of the lives of Irish immigrants in 19th century New York (a constant theme in his longer prose works), but most of these have a reasonably contemporary feel. His descriptive prose is a real treat for connoisseurs, and his talent for capturing the nuances, rhythms and colloquialisms of everyday speech is every bit as good as that of Roddy Doyle. By turns heart-breaking and laugh out loud funny, this collection has the temerity to be even better than Hilary Mantel’s.

The Sick Bag Song by Nick Cave

A disjointed, rambling travelogue in which the formidable Bad Seeds frontman spiels stream-of-consciousness thoughts onto aeroplane sick bags whilst in the throes of a US tour and collects them here in one handy volume. It also contains lyrics for songs he wrote at the time and discarded. It’s a bit too fragmentary to make any real sense – and maybe that’s the point – but overall it came across as if he were trying to write some sort of Ginsberg-esque jazz poem, and it didn’t work for me at all in that respect. That said, Cave is Cave and in amongst the weirdness there are some lines of genuine brilliance – “If the past don’t get you, the future will.” Right on.

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Thomas Cromwell – anything like Mark Rylance?

 

Bring up the bodiesSo farewell Wolf Hall (until Hilary Mantel finishes the third part of the Wolf Hall, Bring up the Bodies trilogy ‘The Mirror and the Light’). Was Thomas Cromwell as enigmatic as Mark Rylance’s portrayal or was he much more a real baddie? Thomas Cromwell: Henry VIII's henchman

Here’s some biographies of the main protagonists ….

Thomas Cromwell: Henry VIII’s henchman by Patrick Coby. Thomas Cromwell served as chief minister of Henry VIII from 1531 to 1540. Many of the momentous events of the 1530s are attributed to his agency. This biography shows the true face of a Machiavellian Tudor statesman of no equal

Thomas Cromwell: the untold story of Henry VIII’s most faithful servant by Tracy Bowman. Reviled as a Machiavellian schemer who stopped at nothing in his quest for power, Thomas Cromwell was also a loving husband, father and guardian, a witty and generous host, and a loyal and devoted servant. With new insights into Cromwell’s character, his family life and his close relationships with both Cardinal Wolsey and Henry VIII, the book, examines the life, loves and legacy of the man who changed the shape of England forever.

Henry VIII: the life and rule of England's NeroHenry VIII: the life and rule of England’s Nero by John Matusiak. 500 years after he ascended the throne, the reputation of England’s best known king is, it seems, being rehabilitated and subtly sanitised. Here, Tudor historian John Matusiak paints an absorbingly intimate portrait of a man wholly unfit for power: his personality, his beliefs, his relationships, his follies, his hollow triumphs, his bitter disappointments.

The divorce of Henry VIII: the untold story by Catherine Fletcher. The backdrop is war-torn Renaissance Italy, combining a gripping family saga with the highly charged political battle of the Tudors & the Vatican, it reveals the extraordinary story of history’s most infamous divorce

Our man in Rome: Henry VIII and his Italian ambassador by Catherine Fletcher. Set against the backdrop of war-torn Renaissance Italy, ‘Our Man in Rome’ weaves together tales from the grubby underbelly of Tudor politics.

The creation of Anne Boleyn: in seach of the Tudors’ most notorious queen by Susan Bordo Part biography, The creation of Anne Boleyn: in search of the Tudors' most notorious queenpart cultural history, ‘The Creation of Anne Boleyn’ is a fascinating reconstruction of Anne’s life and an illuminating look at her afterlife in the popular imagination

The Boleyns: the rise & fall of a Tudor family by D. M. Loades. The fall of Anne Boleyn and her brother George is the classic drama of the Tudor era. The Boleyns had long been an influential English family. This title tells the tale of family rivalry and intrigue set against Henry’s VIII’s court

 Mary Boleyn: ‘the great and infamous whore’ by Alison Weir Mary Boleyn: 'the great and infamous whore'Mary Boleyn is remembered by posterity as a ‘great and infamous whore’. She was the mistress of two kings, Francois I of France and Henry VIII of England and sister to Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII’s second wife. She may secretly have borne Henry a child and it was because of his adultery with Mary that his marriage to Anne was annulled.

 Catherine of Aragon: Henry’s Spanish queen: a biography by Giles Tremlett Reformation, revolution and Tudor history would all have been vastly different without Catherine of Aragon. This biography is the first in more than four decades to be dedicated entirely to the tenacious woman. It draws on fresh material from Spain to trace the dramatic events of her life through Catherine of Aragon’s own eyes

 

New TV version of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall will be true to the book

Bring up the bodiesBBC2’s six-part adaptation of Hilary Mantel’s Tudor novels Wolf Hall  and Bring up the Bodies has been filmed and the BBC is convinced that the drama is going to be a hit.

The production stars Damian Lewis as Henry VIII and Mark Rylance as his wily chief minister Thomas Cromwell

Hilary Mantel recently said at the Cheltenham Literature Festival that she hoped the series would not reflect the “nonsense” of previous inaccurate historical dramas- ‘As soon as you decide this is too complicated for the viewer, or history is an inconvenient shape and can’t we just tidy it up a bit, then you fall into a cascade of errors which ends in nonsense.’

Referring to The Tudors TV series, broadcast on the BBC in 2007,  she accused its creators of dumbing-down, saying: ‘At some point, someone had decided that it was too complex for Henry VIII to have two sisters, so they rolled them into one. ‘Then they had to find a fictitious king for her to marry, so I think they invented a king from Portugal unknown to history. It’s so shaming, and it stems from not trusting the intelligence of the viewer. I think the problem was that there would be too many Marys in the story. But what do I do? Every second man in Henry VIII’s England is called Thomas.’

She added: ‘At any one time, there are five Thomases on the page, all shouting at each other. The only thing to do is let the reader in on it. Admit the difficulty. No one ever pretended historical fiction was easy and we should share that difficulty.’

Damian Lewis shas aid: “I think she was quite rightly concerned that her books might be abused in some way. But she needn’t worry because of the people who are involved in this particular project. Peter Kosminsky (the director) is known for his attention to detail and his love of politics. This is really a political book, they’re not presented as roister-doistering Tudor romps, that’s not what she wrote and that’s not what we’ve filmed.”

 

 

Wolf Hall fans book your tickets or wait for TV version

image-medium (55)This sounds really good! There’s going to be a TV version as well as the stage adaptation of Hilary Mantel’s novels with Mark Rylance  playing Thomas Cromwell in the BBC mini series version.
Tickets for the first theatrical adaptations of award winning novels Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies —  sold out in spring. The production was at at the Swan theatre in Stratford — but the show is expected to transfer to London in the new year. The novels were adapted by Mike Poulton who also adapted The Canterbury Tales and  Morte d’Arthur for the RSC.
The TV version filming begins in Bruges in the spring and will be shown in 2015. The king will be played by Nathaniel Parker, star of the BBC’s Inspector Lynley Mysteries who recently played Gordon Brown. Paul Jesson will play Cardinal Wolsey and Lucy Briers, daughter of the late Richard Briers, will be making her RSC debut as Catherine of Aragon. Lydia Leonard is playing Anne Boleyn.