Tuesday, 30 April 2013

May schedule

Friday 3rd May: The Fields by Kevin Maher

Friday 10th May: The Hired Man by Aminatta Forna

Friday 17th May: Laura Rereading: Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld

Friday 24th May: Farthest North and Farthest South #3: Vinland by George Mackay Brown

Friday 31st May: Thoughts on the 'Orange' Prize 2013

I also have a number of random posts I've been wanting to write for a while - having abandoned the project of having anything to say about Richard Ford's Canada, I've decided to move onto two Song of Ice and Fire/ Game of Thrones essays I've wanted to write for a while. One will be about Catelyn, Sansa and Arya and the interrelated themes of justice and vengeance in the novels, and the other will be a character analysis and re-reading of Theon - so watch this space!

The blog has a new look for May - comments and criticisms are welcome.

Friday, 26 April 2013

Tigers Seven: 'a history of the world'

Claudia Hampton, historian, journalist and writer, reflects on her life as she lies dying from cancer in her seventies. Claudia's reflections are not linear, but take the form of 'strata', as she puts it, remembering an early interest in geology; circling around until they reach the 'core', which was her passionate love affair with soldier Tom in Egypt during the Second World War. She has outlived Tom by more than forty years, and when she discovers a diary he kept during the war near the end of the novel, she finds she no longer recognises the man who wrote those words nor the 'C' whom he frequently refers to; her memories have created a picture that has diverged and differed from Tom's own literary sketch of their relationship. In similar terms, she ponders the mystery of childhood, and the impossibility of entering the mind of a child - either one's own remembered childhood or the childhood of her daughter, Lisa. As the book shifts between first and third person, small asides allow the reader to assess the reliability of Claudia's perspective, and draw attention to the things that she misses and misunderstands, particularly in relation to conventional, demure Lisa and her despised sister-in-law, Sylvia. Claudia's self-mocking declaration that she will write 'a history of the world' also leads to reflections on historical motive and consequence; for example, when she replays the career of Hernan Cortes and his conquest of the Aztec empire and wonders how his audacity was 'possible'. There are the beginnings of an exploration of how we create our own destinies here, the influence we wield and what we deserve, but it seems to be a thread dropped by Lively in this rather too slight novel, raised and abandoned.

I could never summon great enthusiasm while reading this text - and yes, it did seem like a text, rather than something that was meant to entertain and engage. In reflection, I found it frustrating and more than a little dated. Lively's experiments with narrative now seem decidedly pedestrian, and the repetitions of particular scenes in both third and first person rather annoying, driving the dissonant views of the characters home too clearly. I was reminded insistently of The English Patient, which handles time, memory and identity, and war in the North African theatre, much more elegantly, and which is simply much better-written. Lively's reflections on childhood experience, for example, simply didn't ring true to me: '[Children] inhabit not our world but a world we have lost and can never recover. We do not remember childhood - we imagine it. We search for it, in vain, through layers of obscuring dust, and recover some bedraggled shreds of what we think it was. And all the while the inhabitants of this world are among us, like aborigines, like Minoans'. To me, this assessment obscures the much more nuanced ways in which we really remember our childhood, artificially bisecting childhood from the rest of human experience when our memories of our early twenties, for example, may be equally distorted in a different way. Claudia's musings told me nothing new about time, despite occasional lovely imagery - the Moon Tiger of the title, for example, a coil of mosquito repellant which slowly burnt down during her nights with Tom, providing a physical reminder that time was measured and short.

My distance from this text was also motivated by a personal dislike for Claudia, I have to admit. To an extent, this is not a criticism of Lively's writing, as it is difficult to dislike flat characters, and Claudia is clearly a figure who is meant to provoke controversy. However, in a novel as dominated by a single character as this one is, I felt smothered by her. In one sense, it was the familiarity of her characterisation again - I've read too many novels about original intelligent middle-class Englishwomen during the Second World War who exploit their privileged background to defy convention. Claudia's utter certainty about her intellectual superiority to those around her made her difficult to like, and although the third-person sections might have been intended to offset this presentation, showing that Claudia is not always right, I didn't think they really served this purpose. Sylvia's viewpoint sections, for example, made her seem as silly, idiotic and weak-willed as Claudia thinks her, yet despite all that I began to feel great sympathy for the character by the end of the novel. Sylvia is jealous of Claudia's close relationship with her husband, Gordon, Sylvia's brother, yet we soon find out that Sylvia's jealousy is well-grounded - Claudia and Gordon had a literally incestuous relationship as teenagers and continue to exclude others in their close intellectual conversations. Claudia's refusal to admit that Sylvia now has a significant place in Gordon's life too added extra bitterness to my dislike. Even her career as a popular historical writer made me wince, not because I have anything against popular history but because her statements on history were so wrong, driven by emotion and a fascination with spectacle, as Gordon rightly notes.

And, finally, what of Claudia's 'core', her relationship with Tom, the one real love of her life, apart from Gordon (her own assessment, and it seems tragic that her daughter Lisa is excluded from this list)? The sections in Egypt were too staccato and brief for me to get much sense of their connection, and I also felt that this part of the novel felt too much like retreading old ground - more English Patient flashbacks, although I realise that Moon Tiger predates it. Claudia's pain only felt real to me at one crucial moment, and even then, the structure of the novel worked against it, as this fact had been given away in the first pages, so I was expecting it to happen. After Claudia's amping up of this relationship and its importance in the preceding pages, I felt rather cheated that Lively seemed unable to convey its impact. By the end of the novel, indeed, it seemed that Claudia had made herself out to be far more important than she really was, more unusual, more significant. Perhaps this is the point of the book - which beautifully ends after Claudia's death with the voice on the radio continuing to read the six o'clock news. But if so, I don't feel it works, for similar reasons that I felt Margaret Forster's Diary of an Ordinary Woman fell flat. It's an enormously difficult thing to make commonplace events in commonplace lives feel important in fiction, and I don't believe either writer quite pulls it off. In the end, I felt Claudia's history of the world was as insufficient as her earlier histories; full of sound and fury, and signifying nothing.

[For further Tigers reviews, there's now a link in the right sidebar.]

Friday, 19 April 2013

'Temporary insanity'

I've never been a fan of Matthew Kneale's best-known novel and Whitbread winner, English Passengers, but it is precisely the aspects of this novel that concerned me the most at the time that Kneale deftly sidesteps in his more recent collection of short stories, Small Crimes in an Age of Abundance. Both texts primarily focus on the English encounter with the Other. But while English Passengers felt moralistic and unfocused, with straw-man clerics flung in to allow us to feel self-satisfied about our own tolerant liberalism, Small Crimes is quite the opposite; short vignettes that tend to question rather than answer or condemn, and a pervading sense of unease that lingers long after each story is finished. It's a shame that Kneale seems to have written nothing new since his 2008 novel, When We Were Romans, which I also loved.

English Passengers examines the British colonisation of Tasmania and the plight of the aborigines in the mid-nineteenth century, while also glancing at creationism, smuggling and early eugenics. The plot is split for the vast majority of the book into two strands - the first (which I enjoyed much more, mostly because it featured the Manx smuggler Captain Illiam Quillan Kewley, who is far and away the best character in the book) focuses on the long sea voyage to Tasmania of a disparate bunch of Manx seamen and 'English passengers' - these being a sinister doctor making a study of 'native races', a deluded clergyman in search of the Garden of Eden, and a somewhat hapless botanist caught up in it all. The second strand, set in Tasmania, gives us a glimpse of the aboriginal point of view on the atrocities committed by the British through the character of Peevay, but also manages to encompass the convict camps for British criminals as well. The two strands only really intertwine to any extent in the last hundred and fifty pages or so, once Kewley's 'English passengers' arrive in Tasmania, and this severely weakens the novel, as the narrative drive is continually compromised by switching back and forth between the two plot strands, which obviously echo each other thematically but in the end only impinge upon each other in minor ways. 

There's also - as the plot summary suggests - far too much packed in, despite the book's length. I found myself questioning in particular why the Reverend Geoffrey Wilson had been included at all - despite providing the impetus for the voyage, his creationist beliefs with regards to geology had long been discredited by the scientific establishment in Victorian Britain by 1858, as Kneale recognises, and his ramblings seemed less and less relevant to the colonist theme, and more as if they had just been thrown in for comic relief. However, the character of Dr Potter, while thematically more relevant, was hardly less annoying - his shorthand style of writing was hard to concentrate on and meant he acquired absolutely no character depth. On the other hand, the Manx characters were fabulously drawn and Captain Kewley's sections hilarious. The glimpses of life in colonial Tasmania, especially in the convict camps, were fascinating, though I wished that there hadn't been quite so many different points of view from various colonial officials in this section. Despite this, however, Kneale wrote all the various voices incredibly well and it's difficult to become confused about who the narrator is. I also liked how the various narratives gave the novel an appropriately nineteenth-century feel, as if it was a bundle of old papers picked up, sifted through, and collated into a narrative, like Wilkie Collins' The Woman in White or Bram Stoker's Dracula.

Like a packet of letters, then, this book is a mishmash, and, ironically, the sequence of loosely-linked short stories in Small Crimes has almost as much coherence, and certainly carries more thematic weight. The majority of the stories manage a succinct punch of their own, but, together, they are more than the sum of their parts as they examine culpability, guilt, and what qualifies as a criminal act. Superficial similarities, such as liberal, privileged Westerners encountering the 'exotic', don't prevent most of these tales from being individually excellent, although there are a few exceptions; 'Sunlight' trades too heavily on the tired trope of a writer fictionalising his 'real' experiences, whereas the story that closes the collection, 'Powder', feels cliched after so much has been written about terrorism and suicide bombing, especially far superior efforts such as Four Lions. A couple of stories, such as 'Seasons' and 'Taste', simply feel unfinished. However, at the other end of the scale, the two opening stories, 'Stone' and 'Powder', are unforgettable, and I was unsurprised to see that 'Powder' has since been published as a separate novella. Both of the stories start with a familiar scenario - a British family tired of guided tours who want to see the 'real' China, a middle-ranking lawyer who feels he has been overlooked for promotion since achieving the rank of salaried partner - and move forward into the horrific or bizarre. Kneale's skill lies in making each of the characters' small choices seem completely rational, while the conclusions they lead them to are outcomes they would never have chosen; this anatomises the crime in far more detail than most authors manage, raising real questions about our own free will. I was reminded of George Eliot's careful examination in Adam Bede of why we do things we know to be wrong, and how wrong actions snowball into far greater transgressions.

Kneale also plays well with the space between his characters, both geographical and cultural. His range of locations does not feel like mere showing off, but exhibits the careful links he has created between his stories, such as following the production and distribution of cocaine (a theme which reminded me strongly of Jon McGregor's Even the Dogs). His descriptions are sparse and writing workmanlike, but I felt that this was very effective, avoiding the descent into travelogue and the temptation to prove that he has done his research which I felt was one of the flaws of English Passengers. Some stories are simply beautifully structured, such as 'Leaves', which uses the device of the story-within-a-story so well that the reader is instantly captivated by the second tale, rather than distracted by the digression - indeed, when we returned to the main plotline, I had forgotten that it existed. 'Metal' explores the difference between our personal interactions and political actions, as an arms dealer, Toby, congratulates himself for interacting with the 'common man' in the unnamed North African country he has come to do business with. And in 'Sound', a young media journalist, Colin, explores the narrow line between fear and violence when he believes he is being followed by a dangerous stalker, admitting to himself 'he would have been less alarmed if the man walking behind him had been white' and reassured, ultimately, when the man shouts in 'a sing-song public school drawl'.

These stories worked for me, where English Passengers didn't, ultimately because they are set in the here and now; although I'm hardly against historical novels, the themes that Kneale wants to explore are more compelling when we are forced to face them directly, rather than feel comfortable in the knowledge that we are not nineteenth-century colonisers and would never be placed in circumstances where we would act as they did. By reading the two books together, it is clear that Kneale seeks to ask why we are happy to condemn direct imperialism while ignoring or condoning indirect imperialistic actions like the examples that litter the pages of Small Crimes. As he puts it at the end of 'Stone', the terrible incident on the Winters' holiday gradually became 'Something far away, that was not quite real, and that could not touch them'.

Thursday, 11 April 2013

Laura Rereading: 'His fairy tale'

Before rereading: This book was first published in 1963. I have very vivid memories of first reading it as a nineteen-year-old (so virtually the same age as Miranda) during the summer of 2006, and I think I re-read it in 2007. I remember it as being a literary psychological thriller that explored the meeting of two completely incompatible minds in a mesmerising and sophisticated way (basically: it's not Room).

After rereading: I read this book very differently having returned to it six years later. It now appears that the central situation that Fowles contrives - Frederick Clegg's prolonged imprisonment of Miranda - is a plot device rather than his central concern. Although I would hesitate to say that it is simply symbolic, Fowles was clearly interested in finding a way to construct a reason for two such dissimilar people to speak to each other and observe each other for long periods of time, and this was the result. Interestingly, however, I am now far less impressed with it as a novel (perhaps Room had interesting things to say after all?)

The Collector's central motif is unforgettable. A former bank clerk who has won the pools and set himself up in luxury, Frederick Clegg, kidnaps a twenty-year-old art student, Miranda Grey, and keeps her in a specially designed prison in his basement. Frederick is obsessed with Miranda, and money is no object in getting her anything she might want, but Miranda, of course, can only focus on escaping. As Frederick's stilted narrative makes way for excerpts from Miranda's diary, a psychological war of minds begins between captor and prisoner, as Miranda tries to convince Frederick to free her or to find a way to free herself.

I was interested to find a brief snippet by Fowles himself on the novel as I searched the internet for old reviews of this book. He wrote in The Aristos (1964) that the dividing line between the 'many' and the 'few' that The Collector makes so much of should 'run through each individual, not between individuals' and that 'I tried to establish the virtual innocence of the many. Miranda, the girl he imprisoned, had very little more control than Clegg over what she was: she had well-to-do parents, a good educational opportunity, inherited aptitude and intelligence. That does not mean that she was perfect. Far from it - she was arrogant in her ideas, a prig, a liberal-humanist slob, like so many university students. Yet if she had not died she might have become something better, the kind of being humanity so desperately need.' This, perhaps, is one example of why authors' comments on their own works are best ignored, because it was this statement by Fowles, rather than anything in the text itself, that made me begin to feel it was lacking. I don't believe he achieved his stated aims in this novel; what he did achieve was something quite different, something that is not easily pinned down.

My primary concern about this novel is that Miranda seems to be an entirely idealised character, and there is never any sense that she misreads or misinterprets Frederick, except in her fateful actions near the end of the novel - but then, those seem like actions taken more out of desperation than rationality. Obviously, this was not what Fowles intended, so why does this happen? A key issue, I found, was that Fowles too often makes Miranda aware of Frederick's thoughts and motivations, even when there's no reason - or narrative necessity - to make her this hyper-alert. Although such incidences are very minor, to me, they added up. One example is when Miranda asks Frederick to write a cheque to CND; we know already from his narrative that he tells her he'll do this but doesn't, and it would have been horribly ironic to have Miranda writing in her diary that this was one concession she has managed to exhort from him. But instead, quite unrealistically, she tells us that she knows he hasn't written the cheque. In contrast, Frederick gets virtually everything wrong that he possibly can about Miranda, to the extent that I wondered whether placing a few moments in the text where he is right, even if it is just by accident, might make this encounter more telling; where Miranda thinks she is most beyond Frederick's comprehension, perhaps he could comprehend her, and hence prove the lie to some of her more snobbish assertions.

And yet, in no way could The Collector be called a failure - as long as we don't use Fowles' comments as our marking criteria. As I have already noted, it's not easy to forget Miranda's ordeal or the chillingly believable portrayal of the mental boxes in which Frederick has imprisoned himself. Miranda's musings on art and life provide another vibrant thread to the narrative that lifts it out of the category of 'thriller' and makes the reader consider the implications of this story beyond the small physical space in which it takes place. (It is in this context that Fowles's assessment of his own character seems not only cruel but inaccurate; she is neither a slob nor a liberal). Despite the fact that it is the fiftieth anniversary of this text this year, it hardly feels dated, beyond the obvious references to things like the pools; indeed, the sadness lies in the fact that, despite all Miranda's aspirations, society hasn't changed in the slightest.

Sunday, 7 April 2013

The body politic

 When asked to give a brief opinion on Wolf Hall recently, I wrote:

I found this a hard read. Like AS Byatt's The Children's Book, to an extent (although I'm not an early modern historian and can't vouch for her accuracy) Mantel is deliberately blurring the lines between fiction and non-fiction here, and this requires much more intellectual concentration than you'd normally invest in a novel. I also can't fathom how anybody reads this without a working knowledge of Tudor history. On the plus side, Mantel's characterisation, and, more than that, the way she deploys character development, is simply superb. Comparisons to George Eliot in this respect aren't too overblown. She also structures her story masterfully, which must have been hugely difficult when dealing with sprawling period of history like this. What kept me reading was the beautiful subtle detail about Cromwell and his milieu, rather than the political plot. 

How far does this hold true now I've had time to reflect on the novel, and now that I've also read Bring Up the Bodies as a point of comparison? Well, in some respects, I still understand my difficulties, but having read the sequel (or, perhaps, it might be better to think of Wolf Hall as the prequel) I think that I understand much better what Mantel was trying to do with her earlier novel.

Wolf Hall is essentially an extended character study of Thomas Cromwell that takes place largely during an exceptionally tiresome - for fictional purposes, anyway - period of English domestic politics. Even Philippa Gregory's The Other Boleyn Girl, which squeezed every drop of intrigue out of this period of Henry's reign - and then manufactured some more - dragged a little in the 1520s, as Henry's divorce negotiations, or 'the great matter', as he himself would have had it, were protracted and complicated. In Wolf Hall, Mantel is setting up scaffolding - and, indeed, scaffolds - for her later novel, which mercilessly exploits its predecessor in order to hit the ground running. For not only does Bring Up The Bodies [a reference to the contemporary command to bring suspected traitors before the court] have the advantage of being set in the early 1530s and dealing with the juicy intrigue of Anne Boleyn's trial and execution, it can also utilise characters who have already been established. For all the talk of Cromwell's cleverness in the earlier novel, I felt that we saw little of him actually doing anything; in Bring Up The Bodies, this lack is more than made up for, as Cromwell expertly manipulates Anne's downfall to his own advantage. Mantel has been accused of presenting Cromwell in too sympathetic a light, but while this may have been the case in Wolf Hall - I don't know the history of the earlier Tudors well enough to feel I can comment - it doesn't seem to be true in Bring Up The Bodies, as he appears as an increasingly 'grey' man. Although his triple loss of his wife and daughters was one of the most affecting parts of Wolf Hall, Cromwell hardly seeks a quiet, domestic existence, admitting near the end of the novel that he cannot imagine ever retiring, for what is life without the game of politics? Fair enough, one might think, but by then we have been shown the cost of Cromwell's machinations quite clearly.

Of course, it's not only Cromwell himself who benefits from having a novel's experience behind him, and something I particularly enjoyed in Bring Up The Bodies was the fleshing out of a secondary tier of minor characters that had not been quite close enough to him initially to have sufficient screen time. To an extent, this reflects Cromwell's greater power after the fall of Wolsey, as his access to Anne, for example, is increased. However, it was Mantel's characterisation of Jane Seymour that intrigued me the most. Having established Jane as an outwardly quiet girl with sharp observational skills in the earlier novel, she teases out the intricacies of this characterisation, having Jane remain essentially unaffected by the king's attentions and her family's scheming, but letting her gradually learn the way to play the power games she has suddenly become a part of. It is refreshing that Jane did not simply become the 'good' girl to the 'bad' Anne, as I felt Mantel was a little guilty of assigning Anne and her sister, Mary Boleyn, such roles in Wolf Hall. Although, again, I cannot comment on the historical accuracy of these portrayals, I found myself wondering while reading how much it really mattered; as Mantel notes herself in the afterword, the fall of Anne Boleyn is a story that has been told and retold because it has different things to say to each generation, and it is almost impossible for us to untangle the conflicting accounts today. In the end, we write a version of such stories that tells us about ourselves as well as the times it is describing; and as the most recent modern version is Gregory's, where Anne is the scheming, cold, ambitious, barren woman and Mary her natural, motherly, kind, fertile opposite (with Jane playing a minor role in the narrative as an ineffective virgin) it is refreshing to read an account that is free from such sexist binaries.

Mantel's novels, read together, move beyond the micropolitics of the court and embrace a wider view of the realm, and the pitfalls of a personal monarchy, in her characterisation of the king and his courtiers' relationship to him. One of the most memorable scenes in Bring Up The Bodies  - excluding the horrific climax - is when the king falls during jousting, and is believed for a few minutes to be dead. It is the only moment in the novel when Cromwell panics, and the reactions of the other courtiers and ministers are equally uncharacteristic - or perhaps equally revealing. The reader realises how much Cromwell has centred his career around a single man, Henry, and despite his occasional musings on becoming useful to a European monarch, he cannot imagine political life without him. One of the things that I believe makes the Tudor period so fascinating to a modern audience is this merging of the personal and the political; how low-level social skills such as knowing how to manage Henry become essential to the governance of the country. Mantel plays explicitly on this theme with her references to the 'body politic', adopting the vivid early modern metaphor of the king's earthly body becoming parallel to the kingdom's single body, united in law and loyalty to the monarch. In this, she allows herself to tell what is a very domestic story while retaining a wider resonance - and, perhaps, critics' respect, and prize juries' favour.

Saturday, 6 April 2013

The to-read pile lives again

Through no fault of my own (except a visit to the library, numerous orders of free proof copies via Amazon Vine, and the stack of books I received at Christmas, but, well) I once again have a reasonably large to-read pile [pictured]. As already scheduled, I will be reviewing some of these books throughout April, but if there's one you'd particularly like my thoughts on, do let me know!

Why They Are In the Pile

The Translation of the Bones by Francesca Kay: I very much enjoyed Kay's elegant and understated debut, An Equal Stillness, and I hope this novel lives up to its predecessor. The blurb promises to explore the lives of unhappily married Stella, her ten-year-old son, Felix, and Mary-Margaret, who believes she has witnessed a miracle that will have dangerous consequences for Stella. I wouldn't find this enticing if I wasn't already assured of the power of Kay's writing, but her sympathetic and nuanced portrayal of her previous heroine, artist Jennet, makes me believe she can pull this off.

How Many Miles to Babylon? by Jennifer Johnston: A friend recommended this to me and I fortunately came across a copy in the library. I'm uncomfortably aware that I tend to write off numerous female writers as middlebrow women's fiction (and to be fair, some males, as well, such as Patrick Gale) and yet hypocritically enjoy many novels which fall into this invented 'category', such as Maggie O'Farrell's work, so I'm keen to give this a go. It deals with the experiences of two men in the trenches during WWI.

Moon Tiger by Penelope Lively: I'm definitely reading this because Penelope Lively was recommended by the same friend, and definitely not because it has the word 'Tiger' in the title. I would never read a book for such spurious reasons as to fill up my quota of blog posts. (Aspiring authors: put a tiger in the title or on the front cover and you have one guaranteed sale!)

Vinland by George Mackay Brown and Independent People by Halldor Laxness: These were both recommended warmly by Victoria at Eve's Alexandria, and I've heard people raving about the latter in numerous places. With one set in Iceland and the other in Orkney, they will also contribute to my Far North and Far South reading, and I like the sense they both seem to have of modern-day sagas.

Waterlog by Roger Deakin: I've enjoyed a lot of Robert Macfarlane's nature writing and he frequently references Deakin; I'm also interested in doing more wild swimming and escaping from the confines of Cambridge's soulless Parkside Pools, so this seemed the perfect place to begin.

The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera: Very famous. Given to me by a friend years ago. Still unread. What else to say?

River of Smoke by Amitav Ghosh: Another present from a friend. I heard Ghosh speak in Cambridge a while back and was fascinated by what he had to say about writing novels, so I hope his practice lives up to his theory - I haven't read anything by him before.

The Fatal Englishman by Sebastian Faulks: One of the few works by Faulks that I haven't read (I think the other is The Fool's Alphabet, plus his James Bond pastiche, but that doesn't really count) this promises short biographies of promising Englishmen whose lives were cut short. I'm a fan of short biographies, and I'm also intrigued by his statement in the introduction that he wanted to explore the lives of men who might have been famous, or, conversely, might have entirely wasted their potential.

The Hired Man by Aminatta Forna: I had some serious qualms about the message of Forma's second novel, The Memory of Love, but she's clearly a talented novelist who can write well. This new offering is set in Croatia and deals with an Englishwoman called Laura who has recently moved to the area and begins to unwittingly uncover local conflicts. I'm looking forward to it.

The Fields by Kevin Maher: This debut about child abuse in 1980s Ireland has received some positive critical attention, although I'm always wary when reviewers claim that a child narrator has an 'original voice' or a 'unique take on life'.

Time to get reading...

NB My scheduled review of 'Wolf Hall' and 'Bring Up The Bodies' will be posted tomorrow.