Wolf Hall and Bring up the bodies

I read Wolf Hall at the start of the year and Bring up the Bodies towards the end.

I have a strange difficulty imagining the lives of people in the past. From my full colour present I can only conjure a desaturated jittery newsreel. Tutor period are worse, sliced monologues of history that pan slowly over oil paintings.

So it is a pleasure to spend time with Thomas Cromwell in these books. He seems so very alive. Three dimensional, and modern. This man I can imagine plucked out of Tudor London and thriving in the halls of Westminster. Aristocratic court drama usually bore me, but here I cheer this man on though his bleak Borgan or 15th century house of cards. I think mostly because I like him.

The two books blur into one for me, the second book felt more like later chapters of the first.

Whilst the high drama is compelling, I find myself thinking more about the passing moments that give a little window into a past.

Like the sweating sickness that emptied London. A curiosity when i read the first book at the start of the pandemic, a resonant echo later in the year.

We join Cromwell in his brooding evenings, or seemingly lost in thought amongst between conversations. I have a sense this trend increases in the second book, perhaps older by then he is reflecting more. Otherwise we follow him over his shoulder, observing how he fares at court. Bursts of activity then seem to condense b ack into reflective evenings, where his memories haunt him.

They are long books, and this remembering is more effective for that. Recalling a character not seen for 100 pages does feel like reminiscing over someone known log ago. And then, when the still reflections draw to an end, in a blink we appear in the next scene. Jump cuts of time moving quick until we can find our next slow moment.

I really enjoyed these books, they are beautifully written. I look forward to reading the third in 2021.

| Huw

After "Wolf Hall" I read: Ancillary Mercy

Before "Wolf Hall" I read: The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet

After "Bring Up the Bodies" I read: Atomic Habits

Before "Bring Up the Bodies" I read: The Song of Achilles