I've always been a fan of the Tudor period of history, and as any Tudor freak will agree, we have a tendancy to focus only o...moreAbsolutely extraordinary.
I've always been a fan of the Tudor period of history, and as any Tudor freak will agree, we have a tendancy to focus only on the kings and their queens (and their less official dalliances). A prime example is the reign of Henry VIII, arguably the most prominent Tudor monarch. Nearly all books on his reign, certainly those in the historical fiction category, focus on the king and his wives themselves, especially Anne Boleyn.
Hilary Mantel transcends this stereotypical approach and instead gives us an incredibly insightful and gripping look into the character behind the scenes, the one to machinate most of Henry's reformations - an individual who, instead of having been privileged from birth like the king himself, worked himself up from being a butcher's son to the second most important man in the entire nation; Thomas Cromwell.
And yes, maybe Mantel takes some author's license with her portrayal of Cromwell - maybe he wasn't at all the witty, enigmatic, highly intelligent man with a hint of dangerous always clinging to him that Mantel conjures up for us. This is always the issue with historical fiction. Personally, I am not at all bothered by the possibility of history having been embellished by an author. Because this is exactly how I like to imagine a man like Thomas Cromwell; clever, an opportunist, not afraid to put his opinion out there and yet able to do it all under a thin veil of propriety.
Also, a shout-out to Mantel's side-cast; Cromwell's family and extended family are very nicely done and impressively rounded for side-characters in a mostly one-person-centred novel. I especially enjoyed Mary Boleyn's not-so-innocent flirtation with Cromwell and the character of Rafe, Cromwell's servant boy who over the course of the novel becomes more son and friend than servant.
The world Mantel paints for us is wonderful, and the book deserves every word of praise it has received. Anyone the least bit interested in Tudor history or historical fiction in a court setting in general would be foolish to pass this one up. (less)
**spoiler alert** I feel like I sound almost repetitive in saying this because so many have gone before me to say the exact same thing, but I have to...more**spoiler alert** I feel like I sound almost repetitive in saying this because so many have gone before me to say the exact same thing, but I have to say it nonetheless; the book thief is incredible.
I'm not usually one to read war/holocaust novels - they tend to get me down a little and be so riddled with historical facts that the enjoyment is lost for me. The Book Thief, however, feels more like a young adult novel with themes of war and anti-semitism than an actual war novel, which is one of the many things I love about it.
I love the concept of the main character being a stealer of books (hence the title) and how the books she steals throughout The Book Thief all have a significance in the story; interconnectivity of books and stories and narratives is generally a theme I very much enjoy. Also, when I first found out about the book, the fact that it is narrated by a personification of Death seemed to me a little gothic and a little too easy to hit and miss. However, Zusak does it well and writes Death in a way that almost makes you forget he is a bad guy. In his own words; 'I am not violent. I am not malicious. I am a result.'
While Death narrates, the main character of the novel is the girl whose life story he tells; Liesel, a young jew in hiding with a German family. Her losses and sacrifices due to the war and her religion/race play a part, but not overbearingly so. The novel is poignant in its grief and the heaviness of the situations described in it, and yet manages to be light to read and, for me personally, left me feeling more touched and liberated rather than oppressed and depressed upon finishing it. Somehow, Zusak manages to make you feel a very sad but heartfelt brand of happiness when you reach the end of his novel, in spite of the many deaths. A truly remarkable feat.
I have to mention my two favourite scenes, hence the spoiler alert; when Liesel and Max reunite in the march, and when Liesel finally, despairingly, confesses her love for Rudy. Heartbreakingly beautiful. I won't go into any more detail and blabber on and on, because honestly, I can't do The Book Thief justice in any review no matter how long I make it. You simply have to read it yourself.(less)