Monthly Archives: March 2015

Book Review: Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

Wolf Hall by Hilary MantelTitle: Wolf Hall
Author: Hilary Mantel
Source: Library Copy
Publisher: Picador, 2009
Awards: 2009 Man Booker Award

Wolf Hall is soon to be aired on PBS as a highly anticipated miniseries highlight the scandals of sagas of the Tudor court as Henry VIII tries to annul his marriage to Katherine of Aragon to wed Anne Boleyn.

That is the entire premise of the first book of the Thomas Cromwell Trilogy Hilary Mantel has produced over the last six years. From reading various reviews online, this book has been met with equally vicious and loving reviews. It’s a love-it or hate-it type of book, and I fall into the love-it category. One note, any use of the pronoun “he” more often than not refers to Thomas Cromwell. This writing quirk has a bit tricky to keep up with earlier in the book when there were many men present and active in the chapters. Although once I accustomed myself to this usage, the book had a wonderfully enticing flow that seemingly transported me back to 16th Century. Although I love historical novels and Henry VIII is my favorite monarch, I have not read any historical novels set in this era. I’m glad I started with Wolf Hall. Mantel’s minute descriptions could have been boring, and dragged on. But they did not. They created wonderful visuals in my head of an impatient, intelligent and multi-layered King who wanted a male heir to the throne. While Katherine had been first married to his older brother Arthur, Henry married her upon the death of his brother. Inheriting the queen and the crown at the same time was fine and dandy, but after 20 years with only a single daughter to boast, Henry was ready to move on.

His prime confidant, Cardinal Wolsey, has already fallen out of favor with the king at the start of the book. Wolsey is Cromwell’s entryway into the royal courts and into the royal lives of King Henry, Queen Katherine and Queen-to-be Anne Boleyn. The fall of Wolsey is the rise of Cromwell. I appreciated this unique perspective on such a scandalous time of England’s history. So many of these books are written through the eyes of the royals themselves. It is nice to get an outsider’s view of the royals, although it is still such as intimate as from the Kings, queens and princesses themselves.

Mantel’s research into this era is inspiring. Her understanding of the cultural norms, fashions, religious controversies and policies is educational, and very vividly described. As I said, I felt transported back in time reading this book. It was so engrossing for me. I’ve quickly jumped into book two, Bring Up the Bodies so that I won’t be caught unawares when the mini-series starts on April 5th.

I definitely recommend this book for historical fiction readers. I’m curious to see how the adaptation of book to mini-series will pan out and if Anne Boleyn will have a meatier role in the TV production versus the book. She’s been a pretty silent character in the first book, but then again, the first book isn’t centered on her as queen.

PS

a photo of an open book with writing in it

The book showing inventory number 282 and Gamon’s signature at the bottom© Stephen Haywood. National Trust

© 2015 by Nari of The Novel World. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @TheNovelWorld

Wolf Hall BBC Series coming to PBS

In the midst of reading Wolf Hall, I found that the books (Wolf Hall & Bring Up the Bodies) have been adapted as a BBC miniseries. While the series aired overseas in January, the series will be on PBS in the states starting April 5th!

I finished Wolf Hall on Saturday and promptly started the sequel that same day. Is anyone else going to watch the series? Its looks amazing!

You can watch the trailer here

© 2015 by Nari of The Novel World. All rights reserved. You can also follow me on Twitter @TheNovelWorld

Lonely reading

Do you ever find a book that you just can’t stop reading. You actually force yourself to read slower, taking time so that the book doesn’t end? I have a book like that right now. Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel. From the reviews, its seems like readers either immediately hate it or love it. I fall in the latter group. But its a lonely read, because I don’t have any other outlet besides this blog to discuss this book. I want to talk history, politics and 16th century gossip. Its books like this that make me wish I had an active book club. Or was still in college getting my English degree. Or had more friends who actively read. Alas. I’m one a lonely isle.

© 2015 by Nari of The Novel World. All rights reserved. You can also follow me on Twitter @TheNovelWorld

A Memory of Violets by Hazel Gaynor

A Memory of Violets: A Novel of London's Flower Sellers

A Memory of Violets: A Novel of London’s Flower Sellers by Hazel Gaynor
Source: Publisher
Publisher: William Morrow, 2015

A Memory of Violets is a well researched book about flower sellers in Victorian London. I kept thinking of Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion or, rather, the movie version My Fair Lady when reading this book. The book is set in 2 timelines, both during the Victorian era in London. The two stories tell the saga of two sets of sisters. The novel is written through many perspectives. We learn about Tilly in her devoted chapters. We learn about Florrie through the diary entries. This diary takes Tilly, and by default the reader, into Florrie’s world of 1873. We learn about Florrie’s family’s struggles with money, with an abusive father and finally about how she lost her mother to death and her beloved younger sister to an attempted kidnapping. 

Then there is a third section where the author tells us about Florrie and what becomes of her sister Rosie. Although, Tilly is used mostly as a vehicle to reveal Florrie’s story. I think if the author spent some time talking about Tilly’s relationship with the girls she cares for, there would more to her side. There is very little to Tilly’s back story. We see virtually no interaction between Tilly and the girls she cares for (minus Queenie). Although I felt for Tilly and her troubled relationship with her family, her storyline just wasn’t as detailed as it could have been. There were too many missing details that could have made it so much more rich and engrossing. The love story that developed was expected, and the entire phantom ghost story of Florrie felt cliché and unnecessary.

I did like that each segment of the girl’s lives was introduced with a special flower and its meaning:

Part One – Purple Hyacinth “Please forgive me.”
Part Two – Pink Carnation “I will never forget you.”
Part Three – Primrose “I can’t live without you.”
Part Four – Pansy “You are in my thoughts.”

I still enjoyed the book immensely. I love books about Victorian London and this one did not disappoint. It is a fairly light read, but I do like the segment of history it highlights. All I knew about the flower sellers of London is from My Fair Lady. I never knew that there was an entire home dedicated to the disabled orphans of London who create beautiful fabric flowers with their limited resources. Although the disabled and poor in London remained mostly invisible at the time, one man, a christian preacher and philanthropist, John Grooms, (portrayed in the book as Albert Shaw) founded the Crippleage and Flower Girls Mission. His mission was to provide a safe shelter for these girls and provide them with the skills necessary to see them succeed in life after leaving the home. It’s a wonderful side of London’s history that is often neglected in historical fiction.

© 2015 by Nari of The Novel World. All rights reserved. You can also follow me on Twitter @TheNovelWorld

Mademoiselle Chanel by

Mademoiselle Chanel

Mademoiselle Chanel by CW Gortner
Source: Publisher
Publisher: HarperCollins, March 15th 2015

Gortner’s historical biography of Coco Chanel spans her entire life, from her poverty-stricken youth to her return to Paris’ fashion empire. We see how she developed and grew her fashion empire, her struggles in balancing her life between two worlds. One of her past and one of the rich and famous who she adorns with her outfits.

Gortner’s novel is well-researched and his admiration for Chanel is quite evident in the text. At times, it felt as if she could do no wrong. Even when she did mess up, it was easily excused or explained. Despite that, I think the book paints an accurate portrayal of her life in France. Chanel is a hard-working person who is not easy to get along with. Starting off making hats in her lover’s house, she eventually moved into a little shop in Paris and survived two world wars, her fashions leaking throughout Europe and eventually overseas into America. Although it took nearly her entire lifetime to be appreciated in her home country, Chanel is now one of the craved-after fashion labels.

For a fun night, I’d say read the book, then watch the Audrey Tautou film “Coco Before Chanel” with some wine and cheese.

Coco Before Chanel (2009) Poster

© 2015 by Nari of The Novel World. All rights reserved. You can also follow me on Twitter @TheNovelWorld