Finished Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel. Much-acclaimed historical novel set in the reign of Henry VIII, following the life and ascent to power of Thomas Cromwell.
Thomas Cromwell was a man of low birth (son of a blacksmith), a protestant courtier who sided with Anne Boleyn against Katherine. The book's particularly good at the start, where it alternates flashbacks to Cromwell's chequered past to his position at court. Has lots of fascinating period detail, and manages well the delicate balance between having modern-enough dialogue and style to keep it readable, but preserve some of the strangeness of the past.
In the twentieth century the fashion tended to have Thomas More as the hero (See "A Man for All Seasons" and "Past Master"), and Cromwell as the baddie. Thomas More sided with Katherine and the established Roman church, was executed for refusing to swear a loyalty oath to the new law and succession, and eventually made a Saint. Hilary Mantel reverses this, Thomas More is painted as a heretic-burning religious fanatic, while Thomas Cromwell as the hero only orders executions reluctantly in view of an essential purpose for the greater good. It's convincing enough for a novel, though I suspect the real Thomas Cromwell was probably far more enthusiastic. It seems to be a common trope in historical novels that point-of-view characters become much more modernistically scrupulous. I'm a bit reminded of Richard III in "The Sunne in Splendour" being horrified at the implausible death of the princes in the tower.
However, after a promising start, the book becomes a bit of a slog when the flashbacks cease and we have an interminable series of subtle manoeuvres in court politics. I'd hoped to have more of the Henry VIII story, but it's only the first third in a trilogy, ((spoiler It ends with More executed, Elizabeth I born, and Anne Boleyn still Queen). The second volume "Bring Up the Bodies" is out, the third not yet.
Overall, a superior historical novel: a good read, but I think a clever editor could have cut about 40% out and made an even better book.
Saw a few things at Tate Britain. Their big current exhibition is Lowry. Pretty decent, has a good selection of his landscapes and city scenes, though not much of his early work like the realistic portraits. My parents live in the area so I've been to the Lowry gallery a few times and seen a lot of his work, so this exhibition wasn't exactly revelatory to me. Worth seeing if you haven't seen much of his work before though,
I normally don't like video installations, but I did like the Simon Starling thing in the great hall. A motion-controlled camera swoops and pivots around recreations of various displays they've had there in recent years. No-one else was there when I turned up, so I stood right in front of the screen: was great to see again some of the things they've had there before, like the fighter planes and the runners. Worth a look (free).
There are also a couple of small exhibitions downstairs: Gary Hume and Patrick Caulfield, both bright-coloured pop artists. Good-looking paintings, the bright colours and sharp angles making a contrast with the blurry drab Lowrys upstairs.
Overall, a good time to visit Tate Britain if you've got a members card, there's a lot to see there right now.
What I'm Watching
Saw 1980 camp classic Flash Gordon on disk. Still entertaining thanks to its pace and not taking anything too seriously. Feels a bit dated, though the lavish sets, models and costumes and the swirling gel effects are still impressive. The fight scenes look a bit chaotic and amateurish by modern standards.
I hoped Girl B would like it since she enjoyed similar period film Logan's Run and Supermans I and II, but she didn't.
Saw Unrivalled Landscape at the Orange Tree Theatre. A "director's showcase" line-up of six interlinked mini-plays. One of the plays was excellent: a stand-up comedian disintegrating on stage on his first gig after being released from prison. The others were a bit poor to be honest: tried a bit too hard to tackle Big Issues, but failed to be convincing. One had a good scene around a pregnancy bed though.
Socioeconomics. Emerging markets mania was a costly mistake. China exports fall. Who sets the real rate of interest. Do the inflationistas really believe what they say? Taxes and growth. More plays written by women in the suffragette era than today.
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