I'm a singing songwriting postie living in Yorkshire. Sometimes I like to be challenged by a book, and sometimes I just want to lose myself.
This is an astonishingly good book: wonderfully written, craftily crafted and beautifully brutal. Firstly, that whole interwar period of the 1920's and 30's (especially in Germany) has always been a bit of a black hole for me, as history lessons in school were dominated by the World Wars, but here Ben Elton brings the Weimar Republic to life, with its extremes of poverty, decadence, violence and jazz. Secondly, it's also always been incomprehensible to me how the German public allowed the 'Final Solution' to actually happen, but as Ben Elton beautifully lays out here, it was a long, gradual, poisoning process that the nascent Nazi party put at the heart of its insane manifesto, and they took their time: small, ‘reasonable’ steps - all for the good of the nation - to bring it to its horrific conclusion. So the historical setting of the story had me from the very start, and so did the characters.
The family at the centre of the novel are wonderfully real (and having the twins being born on the same day as the Nazi party was officially formed was a genius touch). The cast of characters in the book range across the spectrum of classes in society yet everyone is drawn naturally and believably; they’re mostly people just caught up in the gale of the world, getting by as best as they can - none more so than the 4 children whose story we follow most closely. And the city too is used to reflect the changes each new era brings about: it brightens and comes to life in the boom years, then ages and darkens as Hitler’s spells wear off.
The plot is perfectly structured; it gives hints of things to come, while at the same time teasing you with false trails and dead-ends; this was that rare book that made me literally laugh out loud and cry in public (especially embarrassing as I’m a postie, and was listening to this on audiobook …).
So, overall, an incredible book - and beautifully narrated too - that’s going to stay with me for many years to come - thoroughly recommended!
I wasn’t finding this a particularly easy book to read (or at least to listen to) until I was about halfway through. Then something clicked, and I realised what it was about the writing that felt strange: there’s no plot - or should I say that the plot is so old and well known that the author doesn’t bother with it. The characters are real people from our past and their life stories are history: set in stone, in a thousand textbooks, their fates are already decided, even if it's only us - the readers - that know it. And Hilary Mantel presumes we do, and so, freed from twisting and shaping a plot, she concentrates on their language: their thoughts and inner voices; the words they might have spoken; even their body language is used to take us deep into their lives and motivations, and Hilary Mantel certainly can write. Whether it’s Thomas More intellectualising his inhumanity or a coarse fisherman going on about some prostitutes her writing is fluid and believable.
Thomas Cromwell was unknown to me before I started Wolf Hall but now I’ve got the feeling that he’s going to stay with me as one of the great (non?) fictional historical characters. (I don’t know, or really care, if this is a true portrait of Thomas Cromwell, but the author made a great decision by putting him at the heart of this pivotal moment in history.)
He’s a wonderfully complex man: his fidelity to his friends, family, masters and ideals contrasts with the ruthlessness of his politics; his drive to free England of the shackles of Rome is bizarrely made possible by the whims of his King, and he accepts this and uses it; and most of all, his comfortableness with the commoners combines beautifully with his ability to motivate and manipulate his betters.
The narrator - Simon Slater - gives every character their own distinctive voice and he adds depth, menace or lightness as needed. So, overall, not an easy read but a beautiful and worthy challenge.
Firstly let me say that I’m really enjoying the whole Canongate Myth series so far (I’m 5 books in now). I’m finding them all interesting, challenging, personal accounts of how story/myth has affected the various authors and their world views. ‘Weight’ carries on in the same vein, and Jeanette Winterson’s mix of autobiography and mythical tales works brilliantly, especially as the two other narrators take the roles of various characters in the stories. I thoroughly enjoyed this audiobook, and though it is short it is in no way trivial or an easy read.