The Charter (www.gillianhamer.com)
What we thought: I’m going to start this review with the final line of the novel, one of my all-time favourite last lines in fact:
“There are no endings. If you think so, you are deceived as to their nature. They are all beginnings. Here is one.”
If that’s not smart, I don’t know what is. I sat open-mouthed, not sure the book had finished for a moment or two, and then gave a little round of applause!
I listened to the novel on an audio book and have to say I was pulled into the story from the very first page. Whilst with Wolf Hall, I struggled and found it slow to start, with Bring up the Bodies, I was right there, immediately, back at Cromwell’s side, ready to face whatever battle Henry VIII chose to fight next.
Mantel’s writing here is flawless; she has found her stride and her voice. There were a number of scenes that stopped me in my tracks, made me rewind and listen again. One such was the execution scene of Anne Boleyn (I don’t think I’m spoiling anyone’s read by announcing this is where she ends up!) The scene was so powerful and vivid and yet the writing was so calm and succinct. It shouldn’t have worked, but it did. No need for graphic, no need for fan fares, no loud words or strong colours. Yet, still, we were there, at Cromwell’s shoulder, hiding our eyes in the same way as his son, Gregory.
I can’t wait for the last in the trilogy. Although I don’t want to the story to end and knowing what will happen to Cromwell almost makes me refuse to read it. After so many interpretations of him throughout every other historical book I’ve read of this cruel, barbaric, selfish individual, I now feel I know him personally. And yes, he is all of the above, and more. But Mantel humanises him. And it is this I shall miss when I close the final page. I am already dreading his absence as Henry was said to have dreaded it every day until he reached his own grave. Mantel’s research feels effortless, never once did I bemoan an info-dump or shake my head at the writers need to boast. She dug into his life, his past and his persona and presented him to perfection.
I can’t recommend this novel highly enough; whether you’re a fan of historical fiction or not, do yourself a favour and let Hilary Mantel absorb you for a few hours into life in a Tudor court.
You’ll enjoy this if you like : For me, she’s incomparible.
Avoid if you don’t like : The Tudors, jousting and executions.
Ideal accompaniments : Jugs of claret wine (a gift from a French Ambassador) and roast oxen with figs and turnips.
Genre : Historical Fiction.