It’s really an accomplishment for a historical novel to have such low nostalgia and sentimentality content.
Mantel’s language is not beautiful, but every person, place, and encounter is vividly realized in deft, clear strokes. And she arranges her material so artfully that she never has to waste time explaining anything: all she does is describe. A tour de force of explication.
Mantel might go a bit too far in making Thomas Cromwell’s household at Austin Friars seem like Anna Madrigal’s 28 Barbary Lane, but her fresh take on all these familiar characters is part of the fun. She certainly doesn’t trouble herself to make many of the other people in the book likeable. It’s The Sopranos in 16th century London. Thomas More, in particular, is treated to both a metaphorical and a literal hatchet job. It’s wicked and fun.
[Image: Cranach, Salome, 1530]