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.