Saturday, May 27, 2017

Cromwell, Superman

A brief review of Wolf Hall.

The press of business prevents a longer post, so just a few words on a novel I have been laboring over, Wolf Hall, by Hillary Mantel. First, the style- it is offensively eliptical and unclear, not indicating dialog or who is speaking or thinking. How it could have been the rage of the prize committees and reviewers a few years ago is simply beyond me. Edgy, yes. But respectful of the reader, no. Comparing it to another bit of current reading, Thomas Hardy's Far From the Maddening Crowd, couldn't make the contrast starker. Hardy treats his reader as well as his subjects with great respect. Humor, yes, and deep insight, but first of all clarity, and rich context and exposition. 

Ann Boleyn, secondary subject of Wolf Hall.

Mantel, in contrast, plays games with the reader, telling the story through a straw of cynical mannerism, hiding far more than she tells. Thomas Cromwell, the main character, is made out to be a 100% pargon of competence and compassion, and all other characters are given temperatures directly in proportion to how close they are to him. Those he hates are vile, those he likes are good and virtuous. Yet the story is not really told from his perspective, but from Mantel's snarky omnicient voice, making all this characterization absurd as well as historically unbelievable. I assume that the BBC production was able to, thankfully, jettison virtually all the novelistic apparatus and return to whatever of the history was presentable, using only the broadest outlines of Matel's selection of scenes and personalities.

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