After supper, old Sir John tells the story of Edgar the Peaceable. He was the ruler in these parts, many hundreds of years ago, before kings had numbers: when all maids were fair maids and all knights were gallant and life was simple and violent and usually brief. Edgar had in mind a bride for himself, and sent one of his earls to appraise her. The earl, who was both false and cunning, sent back word that her beauty had been much exaggerated by poets and painters; seen in real life, he said, she had a limp and a squint. His aim was to have the tender damsel for himself, and so he seduced and married her. Upon discovering the earl’s treachery Edgar ambushed him, in a grove not far from here, and rammed a javelin into him, killing him with one blow.
The greatest obstacle in creating a historical fiction is placing all the very fictional words at the tongues of those very real historical figures. Who might say what, the way they would say it, in the proper situations at that period of time, without deviating too much from the well researched and well-known facts. It’s a grueling guessing game. How do the writer chose sentences, and the right language? One makes compelling read, other lulls readers to sleep.
‘Majesty, I hear the Lord Mayor of London scarcely leaves his house, he is so afflicted by migraine.’
‘Mm?’ Henry says.
‘They are bleeding him. Is that what Your Majesty would advise?’
A pause. Henry focuses on him, with some effort. ‘Bleeding him, I’m sorry, for what?’
Is that Henry VIII, or Mantel?
‘You think women more foolish than men?’
‘In general, yes. And weaker. In matters of love.’
‘I note your opinion.’
Are those William Brereton and Thomas Cromwell? Or Hilary Mantel and Hilary Mantel?
This time Bring Up the Bodies tries to recount the fictional story of Anne Boleyn’s historical last days from historical Thomas Cromwell’s fictional perspective. That is difficult. Walking in a tight rope without safety nets, again. Readers can sense the plot tiptoeing through facts and fictions. At times Mantel seems sure of what she writes, and it’s logical to have certain areas intentionally left blank from the apparent lack of real evidences, but then, it dives straight back into speculations to fill the blanks. The conversations of Wolf Hall‘s characters were at least, slightly, more believable.
No doubt the book will be much better as a non-fiction without the burden of dicey dialogues and questionable settings. Or, in a straight, no Tudors involved, after supper front to back pure imagination. And of course it is worth cheered on for the brave double dare. But is it, ultimately, Booker-prize worthy?