British author Hilary Mantel, who won the Booker Prize twice for the first two books of her Wolf Hall trilogy, has died aged 70.
I confess to not being familiar with her work, but her obituary speaks of her capacity for the historical novel—including the Wolf Hall trilogy wherein she writes of the 16th Century during the time of King Henry VIII and Thomas Cromwell. (Hans Holbein the Younger painted the portraits of many characters of English history of this period including both King Henry VIII and Cromwell, hence my interest).
‘The Times’ remarks on her writing….
We hacks, even us literary ones, like to think of ourselves as a hard-bitten bunch, but the news that Hilary Mantel had died aged 70 knocked us back. What a woman, what a writer. Those of us who have read her Wolf Hall trilogy, all 2,000 pages, will feel it
The Wolf Hall trilogy
It feels unlikely that there are many readers out there who haven’t yet been swept up by the bloody brilliance of the Thomas Cromwell trilogy. Across three hefty novels, Mantel conjured up the splendid, tyrannical court of Henry VIII through the shrewd eyes of Thomas Cromwell, the blacksmith’s son from Putney who rose and rose to the King’s right hand. Until Mantel, history remembered Cromwell as a butcher but she made him real — brilliant, humane, ruthless. The trilogy comprises ‘Wolf Hall’ (2009), ‘Bring Up the Bodies’ (2012) and ‘The Mirror & the Light’ (2020).
It’s interesting though, to read—in the comments column accompanying ‘The Times’ article—the varied responses to news of her death. These range from
‘A tragic loss, she was a wonderful writer and not afraid of controversy’, to
‘she failed the basic test of the historical novelist, namely to portray convincingly the interior lives of people who lived a long time ago’, and
‘Patrick O’Brian is a far better master of history’, and
‘Her misrepresentation of St. Thomas More, who died for his beliefs at the hand of the murderous Henry VIII, is a prime example. I wonder how many readers of “Wolf Hall” came away believing More actually was the corrupt villain she created.’
Food for thought…. (Have ordered the first book of the trilogy through the library).