Non Fiction November – Book Pairings
In Nonfiction November, this week (hosted by Katie at Doing Dewey) we’re supposed to pair up a nonfiction book with a fiction title. That’s tough enough at the best of times but especially so this year when I read very little non fiction.
So I’m cheating a bit by using a fiction book I read last year: The Mirror And The Light by Hilary Mantel, the third and final part of her trilogy about Thomas Cromwell. It’s what I refer to as my pandemic novel because I bought it just a few days before all shops were closed down.
I started reading it at the beginning of the (first) UK lockdown and didn’t finish it until the restrictions were lifted. It’s a magnificent book that I didn’t want to race through plus it was very long (912 pages) and too heavy to hold for any length of time.
Mantel traces the final years of Thomas Cromwell, the man who climbed from poverty to occupy the highest offices in England and become Henry VIII’s right-hand man. It’s a magnificent portrait of a man who upsets many a nobleman man as he changes England into a wealthy and ‘modern’ nation. As the book progresses it takes all of Cromwell’s ingenuity to keep ahead of his enemies.
Though Cromwell is the main focus of the novel, the narrative wouldn’t work without Henry or some of his six wives.
We know their names and their fates from countless books, films and tv adaptations. They often come across as stereotypes: the betrayed wife, the temptress, the good woman, the ugly one etc. But who were those women really? The answers lie in The Six Wives of Henry VIII by Antonia Fraser. Published in 1992 this is the most thorough and most engaging biography I’ve read about these women.
Fraser shows them to be seen as more than victims of a man’s lust or a King’s obsession with dynasty. She shows them as women of spirit and intelligence whose great misfortune was to be born in the sixteenth century.
28 thoughts on “Non Fiction November – Book Pairings”
Ooooh, the Antonia Fraser sounds fascinating! Maybe along the lines of The Five by Hallie Rubenhold, giving texture and dimensionality to women who have been reduced by history. Thanks for the tip!
It’s definitely as well researched as The Five
I still haven’t read anything by Hilary Mantel, that period of history always makes my head swim… but like most people I do find Henry VIII and his wives fascinating. Both of these sound like they are worth reading together. Thanks!
I spent a lot of time in the company of the Tudors because that was one of the key periods I studied at school/university. Still have large gaps in my knowledge though
I read the first two Mantels and appreciated them but I’ve not felt compelled to read the third so far. Partly because I feel somewhat obligated to reread the first two to refresh my memory, and that would be a huge commitment! The Fraser biography sounds excellent, thanks for the recommendation.
There was a long gap between the second and the third books but when I started reading book 3 it didn’t feel like I had forgotten so much of it that I had to start again.
I bought The Mirror and the Light at the start of the pandemic too, then found I couldn’t concentrate on it once lockdown began. I must go back to it soon!
It does take some concentration partly because there are so many characters but also because her style of writing is quite intense. well worth it though
An interesting pairing! I’ve yet to read Mantel, but I suspect I would start with her French Revolution books first!
I’d suspect that would be your starting point too. I did read it many years ago but my knowledge of the French Rev wasn’t quite up to it – I always meant to return to it one day.
An excellent pairing – well done.
Thanks – it’s years and years since I read the Fraser but it’s still one of my favourite books about the period
I struggle with the pairing idea too. But yours is a good one.
I almost couldn’t think of any pairing but I realised after seeing other people’s choices that I was making life difficult for myself by choosing only books I’d read.
Yes, I suppose it is ‘cheating’ a bit, because I’m only reading these two and haven’t finished them yet…
But in the spirit of these memes, it’s about sharing recommendations, so (within reason) I don’t think it matters if you’ve read a book or not.
That’s true, I should learn to be more relaxed about the ‘rules”
I considered using Hilary Mantel as my pairing as I have acquired Diarmaid MacCulloch’s bio about Cromwell. But it has about 750 pages, so it will be a while before I get to it!
It will be interesting to see how his interpretation of Cromwell dovetails or separates from Mantels
I got my hands on The Mirror and the Light as soon as it came out and loved it. I plan to read all three of them again. I read the Antonia Fraser book decades ago and found it to be a great read, then went on to enjoy others by Antonia Fraser, particularly her Mary, Queen of Scots.
Queen of Scots would be a fascinating subject. I know I read one bio of her many moons ago but it wasn’t all that well written.
Well done! I struggle with this week because I don’t read much historical fiction and that makes it easier to do, so I’m pleased I found two pairings. And books read in the pandemic cross the years, don’t they, because it’s all one big year, really, right?!
Absolutely, the last couple of years have mushed into one. I was struggling to remember yesterday whether the gift voucher I had for a spa was from my 2019 Christmas or birthday.
I must be one of the few people in the world who has not read the Mantel trilogy. Good pairing there.
Oh I think there are a fair few who have yet to discover these books.
Fraser is a great author, great pairing!
I really enjoyed a lot Mantel’s trilogy
Anything in particular by Fraser that you particularly enjoyed and would recommend?
Wow! 900+ is hefty and pandemic worthy!
Not quite War and Peace proportions but not far off it