Monday, May 28, 2012

Bring Up The Bodies

I think that I have proclaimed my deep love for HilaryMantel loudly enough and often enough to qualify me as her a stalker. So I was all prepared to adore her new novel Bring Up The Bodies and guess what? I did! ~~Sigh~~ Happiness complete.
So…first there was the superb, award winning Wolf Hall. Has everyone heard of this? Good. Has everyone read this? If not go do so we’ll be here still heaping accolades on Ms Mantel when you get back. If the rest of you have had the great good sense to read Wolf Hall we’ll move on.
In Bring Up The Bodies Thomas Cromwell is older, more seasoned and more pressured than ever. Marriage number two for his liege Henry is not working out. Queen Anne’s personality and son-less womb are not winning her any support at court and is alienating Henry. Henry’s eye is roving. He’s sees greener grass and it will fall to Cromwell to make it all happen. You knew that much before you got to page one but of course it’s the telling that makes Bring Up The Bodies so absolutely divine.
Hilary Mantel somehow produces magical writing with the same ease that it takes the rest of us  to open a can of tuna. Writing that all at once makes familiar facts suspenseful, creates humanity and understanding in the traditional bad guys of history and builds ambience and setting with brief, well placed descriptions of an object or a smell or the cut of a dress. At the same time Mantel is inside of Cromwell along with all the dead friends, family and foes he cannot shake loose of writing through him.
The amazing marriage of Hilary Mantel and Thomas Cromwell has already produced two magnificent novels: Wolf Hall and Bring Up The Bodies. The final book in this trilogy is in the works and it cannot arrive fast enough for me.

P.S. You could absolutely read and adore Bring Up The Bodies without having read Wolf Hall? Yes, but why would you want to?

Monday, May 14, 2012

Arlington Park

We all understand that you never know what goes on behind your neighbors’ curtains, right? We’ve learned this from relationships, novels and every Lifetime TV movie ever made. We got it. The yards in the neighborhood might be beautifully groomed, the car in the driveway the latest model, the children all smiles at the bus top but peel back the veneer and voila! The seamy underbelly of suburbia. This is the territory that Rachel Cusk covers in her novel, Arlington Park.

Have you read anything by Ms Cusk? She has the surgeon’s skill of cutting away and cutting away until the entire tumor is exposed and it serves her well in Arlington Park.  Cusk dissects the lives of four women who are far from old but whose youth is gone. They are all wives and mothers. Over the course of day, Cusk's plot illustrates the  varying states of unhappiness, paralysis, nursing slights and general discontent of her characters. Arlington Park is  where those whose dreams have always included an element of being “on the way up” discover the emotional cost of that life.
Cusk writes with uncompromising honesty about her characters. Yes she opens that older than dirt curtain idea  but that is only her first step in dissecting the relationships, choices, home lives and society of her women. Arlington Park is not a feel good novel of friendships tested among disparate women while they chew the fat over endless cups of tea. It’s a much darker story about not always likable people by a very talented writer

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Blue Asylum

If I’m poking around for something new to read and the words Civil War pop up, I move on. My interest in historical fiction from that period began and ended with Gone With The Wind. Then because I hearted the cover on Blue Asylum  so much I disregarded my embargo and read on. Once again judging a book by its cover has led me to reading happiness. Shallowness has so paid off for me over the years!

Essentially Blue Asylum is the story of a young wife, Iris, with abolitionist beliefs married to a southern slave owner who has her committed when she acts on her beliefs. Once at the island asylum of Sanibel Iris is subject to the treatments of an egotistical doctor, the fantasies of his son and is herself attracted to a traumatized Confederate soldier. There are unique touches to the whys, wheres and hows but emotionally it’s the usual pile on of drama after drama for a hoop-skirted heroine.

You could take that basic plot description and check Blue Asylum off as romantic soap opera. It is but it’s that and more in the hands of a strong writer like Kathy Hepinstall. This makes all the difference in the world my friends. Within the theater of the true to life  historical elements, the war, slavery and marriage laws Hepinstall is able to create interesting, period-accurate characters (Halleluiah!) whose personal dramas unfold engagingly and realistically against a well researched ambiance. The union of all these parts without any one component over powering the other makes for a rich, smart read.