The Historical Novel Society monthly mail collects book reviews from various newspapers making it easy for people like me to decide what to read and what to avoid. The past few months, I did not find anything interesting. But this month there are two books which I want to read.
The first one is Hilary Mantel’s Bring Up The Bodies which is a sequel to her Booker prize winning Wolf Hall. I am not a big fan of English royalty and the palace politics, but the only reason the book looks interesting is the period — 16th century — when Europeans where on a looting spree around the world. NPR had an interview with her and most of the reviews are positive.
Historical fiction has many pitfalls, multiple characters and plausible underwear being only two of them. How should people talk? Sixteenth-century diction would be intolerable, but so would modern slang; Mantel opts for standard English, with the occasional dirty joke, and for present-tense narration much of the time, which keeps us right there with Cromwell as his plots and Mantel’s unfold. How much detail – clothes, furnishings, appliances – to supply without clogging up the page and slowing down the story? Enough to allow the reader to picture the scene, with lush fabrics and textures highlighted, as they were at the time. Mantel generally answers the same kinds of question that interest readers in court reports of murder trials or coverage of royal weddings. What was the dress like? How did she look? Who really went to bed with whom? Mantel sometimes overshares, but literary invention does not fail her: she’s as deft and verbally adroit as ever. [Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel – review]
The second book is non-fiction about the First Crusade. Washington Post has the review of Peter Frankopan’s The First Crusade: The Call From the East
But the West possessed fighting men and modern technology — chiefly the knight mounted on an armored war horse — and there might lie salvation, of a sort. By eliding the interests of Constantinople with the promise of liberating Jerusalem, Alexios presented himself as a champion of Christendom. He wrote to Urban, who, faced with a rival pope and widespread clerical discord, quickly grasped that a noble cause in a distant land would bolster his wobbly perch on the throne of St. Peter. To increase the Crusade’s attractiveness, the savvy pontiff emphasized not only the spiritual rewards of participation, but also the virtual guarantee of a place in heaven for those who lost their lives. The leaders of the Crusade soon included Robert, Duke of Normandy (one of William the Conqueror’s sons); Count Raymond of Toulouse; Godfrey of Bouillon; and the soon-to-be-famous Bohemond, whose family controlled the Norman kingdom of Sicily. They and their carefully recruited armies, consisting of reliable fighting men, would meet at Constantinople in 1096 and 1097.In the meantime, the unexpected occurred. From 1095 to ’96, a charismatic preacher, Peter the Hermit, gathered a following of his own and, without papal authorization, unleashed what is now known as the People’s Crusade. Whipped to a frenzy, this ragtag and chaotic mob moved across Europe, preaching anti-Semitism, murdering Jewish populations and devastating the countryside in its hunger for food and supplies. Somehow, a remnant of these marauding zealots made their way to Asia Minor, where they brutally overran a small castle near Nicaea — and were in their turn crushed by vengeful Turkish forces. Ironically, many of these fanatical Christians quickly converted to Islam to save their miserable lives.[‘The First Crusade: The Call From the East,’ by Peter Frankopan]