Thursday, 22 January 2015

Wolf Hall

Wolf Hall is one of only two books I have ever given up on. (The other is Ulysses, where I barely managed the first page.) I don't give up on texts easily - I recently got all the way through AS Byatt's Possession, chosen by someone for my book group, even if - admittedly - I may not have read all (=any) of the poetry. I have ploughed through dozens of papers on Phonological Theory (although I was being paid for some of them). I have even read every word of Peter Ackroyd's tedious tome on London, which is months of my life I will never get back and makes me cringe every time I hear the word "noisome". (No one else uses the word "noisome", thankfully.)

But Wolf Hall got the better of me. It probably didn't help that I was pregnant when I started it. My contract for my job at the university had finished just before my 20 week scan, meaning I had a whole summer to myself before our daughter was born. And the bigger my belly grew, the more time I spent reading. So I thought it was the perfect time to pick up Wolf Hall. I was wrong. After a fairly gripping and pacey first chapter describing kicking a little boy's head in, everything ground to a halt. I quickly realised that I only had weeks left to myself before life would change forever. And I did not want these weeks to be wasted on Hilary Mantel when there were still so many other books in the world left to read.

I'm not the biggest fan of historical fiction, and my knowledge of the period in question is limited to "divorced, beheaded, died." So I would agree that I didn't have the best background for the book. But what I really couldn't deal with was Mantel's use of the pronoun "He" (capitalised) to refer to Thomas Cromwell. If she had just called Cromwell Cromwell or Thomas or Tom or Mr C or even "the lawyer", she and I could have gotten along. Elsewhere, "He" (capitalised) usually means God. Sometimes in this book He also did mean God. And then there were lots of other lower case "hes", like Henry VIII and Thomas More and Wolsey that became upper case "He" if they started a sentence. And sometimes "he" (lower case) actually meant Cromwell. It was all very confusing if your head is full of hormones, and reading every sentence ten times simply to work out the referents drained my desire to care two hoots about the plot.

So Wolf Hall went to the charity shop and when Bring Up The Bodies was published and also won the Booker I simply shrugged and thought a) "not on your nelly" and b) "I don't believe any of the judges have read it."

Apparently, there's a third volume in the pipeline, but the BBC have got ahead of themselves and already made the first two into telly. Which could prove a problem if the third has some drastic plot twist that turns the first two volumes on their head. Although I doubt it will. No one will read it anyway. But it will still win a Booker prize.

I watched Wolf Hall, just to see if in the absence of pronouns I would start to care about the plot at all. It turns out not much. You couldn't fault the performances, other than Cromwell's daughters visibly twitching on the bed after they had supposedly died from "sweating sickness", and Anne Boleyn's band playing completely out of the synch with the background music. Mark Gatiss was possibly a bit too like someone out of The Spanish Inquisition on Monty Python. And Damian Lewis made Henry VIII too attractive, although he is still young and only on his first wife at this point. (Being stuck on his first wife is kind of the point.) But I am just splitting (red) hairs here.

I have always admired Mark Rylance, and I don't think he could have been bettered in the lead part of "He". Only ever paying a fiver for a groundling ticket, I went to see him play many roles at the Globe Theatre in London, the most memorable of which was Olivia in an all-male Twelfth Night. Rylance has an extraordinary range of facial expressions, and his firm but gentle presence always makes the subtle magnificent.

Where is Wolf Hall? Not in the book, it seems. Probably because it's something to do with Henry VIII's wife number three, Jane Seymour, and he isn't even married to number two yet. So it's not really a problem that I haven't been there for the purposes of this blog, because you probably haven't either. York Place has since been swallowed up by Whitehall and ravaged by fire. But this is Telly And Travels, and if you have read this far, you must need a picture by now. So here are some very old photos of Hampton Court, which is now run by the lovely Dr Lucy Worsley, who must never be confused with Cardinal Wolsey, speech impediment or no. Hampton Court has an indoor tennis court, a very long vine and a lovely riverside setting, and to be honest, I can't remember much else about it other than its exorbitant entrance fee.

Cardinal Wolsey is banished to Esher, although he hates it, and I have been there too. A friend used to live in a little cottage near the station with two giant cats and a rowing machine, although we won't talk about who owned the rowing machine. Esher is next to Sandown Park racecourse, where my husband and I spent a fun day once. Although being surrounded by people on City bonuses who can afford to chuck away £100 on a single bet when you are on a paltry subtitling salary is quite an eye-opener. "Er, put one on for me at two pounds each way please. And since you're downing your third bottle of champagne, could I possibly nab your free beer token?"

But I think I will give up on the Wolf Hall television adaptation too. If only because I am feeling the lure of my Christmas present from my brother:

I may be some time.

No comments:

Post a Comment