“The End of the World” — G.K. Chesterton

“The End of the World” by G.K. Chesterton

For some time I had been wandering in quiet streets in the curious town of Besançon, which stands like a sort of peninsula in a horse-shoe of river. You may learn from the guide books that it was the birthplace of Victor Hugo, and that it is a military station with many forts, near the French frontier. But you will not learn from guide books that the very tiles on the roofs seem to be of some quainter and more delicate colour than the tiles of all the other towns of the world; that the tiles look like the little clouds of some strange sunset, or like the lustrous scales of some strange fish. They will not tell you that in this town the eye cannot rest on anything without finding it in some way attractive and even elvish, a carved face at a street corner, a gleam of green fields through a stunted arch, or some unexpected colour for the enamel of a spire or dome.

…..Evening was coming on and in the light of it all these colours so simple and yet so subtle seemed more and more to fit together and make a fairy tale. I sat down for a little outside a café with a row of little toy trees in front of it, and presently the driver of a fly (as we should call it) came to the same place. He was one of those very large and dark Frenchmen, a type not common but yet typical of France; the Rabelaisian Frenchman, huge, swarthy, purple-faced, a walking wine-barrel; he was a sort of Southern Falstaff, if one can imagine Falstaff anything but English. And, indeed, there was a vital difference, typical of two nations. For while Falstaff would have been shaking with hilarity like a huge jelly, full of the broad farce of the London streets, this Frenchman was rather solemn and dignified than otherwise—as if pleasure were a kind of pagan religion. After some talk which was full of the admirable civility and equality of French civilisation, he suggested without either eagerness or embarrassment that he should take me in his fly for an hour’s ride in the hills beyond the town. And though it was growing late I consented; for there was one long white road under an archway and round a hill that dragged me like a long white cord. We drove through the strong, squat gateway that was made by Romans, and I remember the coincidence like a sort of omen that as we passed out of the city I heard simultaneously the three sounds which are the trinity of France. They make what some poet calls “a tangled trinity,” and I am not going to disentangle it. Whatever those three things mean, how or why they co-exist; whether they can be reconciled or perhaps are reconciled already; the three sounds I heard then by an accident all at once make up the French mystery. For the brass band in the Casino gardens behind me was playing with a sort of passionate levity some ramping tune from a Parisian comic opera, and while this was going on I heard also the bugles on the hills above, that told of terrible loyalties and men always arming in the gate of France; and I heard also, fainter than these sounds and through them all, the Angelus. Read More

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“Grace” — James Joyce

“Grace” by James Joyce

TWO GENTLEMEN who were in the lavatory at the time tried to lift him up: but he was quite helpless. He lay curled up at the foot of the stairs down which he had fallen. They succeeded in turning him over. His hat had rolled a few yards away and his clothes were smeared with the filth and ooze of the floor on which he had lain, face downwards. His eyes were closed and he breathed with a grunting noise. A thin stream of blood trickled from the corner of his mouth.

These two gentlemen and one of the curates carried him up the stairs and laid him down again on the floor of the bar. In two minutes he was surrounded by a ring of men. The manager of the bar asked everyone who he was and who was with him. No one knew who he was but one of the curates said he had served the gentleman with a small rum.

“Was he by himself?” asked the manager.

“No, sir. There was two gentlemen with him.”

“And where are they?”

No one knew; a voice said:

“Give him air. He’s fainted.”

The ring of onlookers distended and closed again elastically. A dark medal of blood had formed itself near the man’s head on the tessellated floor. The manager, alarmed by the grey pallor of the man’s face, sent for a policeman.

His collar was unfastened and his necktie undone. He opened eyes for an instant, sighed and closed them again. One of gentlemen who had carried him upstairs held a dinged silk hat in his hand. The manager asked repeatedly did no one know who the injured man was or where had his friends gone. The door of the bar opened and an immense constable entered. A crowd which had followed him down the laneway collected outside the door, struggling to look in through the glass panels.

The manager at once began to narrate what he knew. The constable, a young man with thick immobile features, listened. He moved his head slowly to right and left and from the manager to the person on the floor, as if he feared to be the victim of some delusion. Then he drew off his glove, produced a small book from his waist, licked the lead of his pencil and made ready to indite. He asked in a suspicious provincial accent:

“Who is the man? What’s his name and address?”

A young man in a cycling-suit cleared his way through the ring of bystanders. He knelt down promptly beside the injured man and called for water. The constable knelt down also to help. The young man washed the blood from the injured man’s mouth and then called for some brandy. The constable repeated the order in an authoritative voice until a curate came running with the glass. The brandy was forced down the man’s throat. In a few seconds he opened his eyes and looked about him. He looked at the circle of faces and then, understanding, strove to rise to his feet. Read More

Plagiarism

The largest art theft in world history occurred in Boston on March 18, 1990 when thieves stole 13 pieces from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.

Collectively worth $300 million.

$400 million.

At least $500 million.

Among the pieces stolen was Vermeer’s The Concert, which is considered to be the most valuable stolen painting in the world.

Also among the pieces stolen: Landscape with an Obelisk, which previously was attributed to Rembrandt.

Having achieved youthful success as a portrait painter, Rembrandt’s later years were marked by personal tragedy and financial hardships.

He died within a year of his son, on October 4, 1669 in Amsterdam, and was buried in an unmarked grave in the Westerkerk. 

More than half the subjects of Rembrandt’s etchings are portraits and studies of the human figure; about one-quarter are scriptural or religious. There are two dozen landscapes, and the remainder are allegorical and fancy compositions.

Rembrandt was his own most frequent model.

At least 40 paintings and 31 etchings. Maybe 60. Maybe 70.

Frida Kahlo produced 143 paintings, 55 of which are self-portraits.

Because I am so often alone.

Because I am the subject I know best.

The most acclaimed self-portrait of Leonardo da Vinci is critically, irreparably damaged.

The portrait has got blotches, stains and spots, a condition called foxing.

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Leonardo’s self-portrait measures 33.5 by 21.6 centimetres (13.2 by 8.5 inches).

Any list of most famous paintings  would be incomplete without the mention of the Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci.

This infamous portrait of Lisa del Giocondo was completed some time between 1503-1519 and currently on display at the Musee du Louvre in Paris.

Leonardo used a pyramid design to place the woman simply and calmly in the space of the painting.

Between 1851 and 1880, artists who visited the Louvre copied Mona Lisa roughly half as many times as certain works by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, Antonio da Correggio, Paolo Veronese, Titian, Jean-Baptiste Greuze and Pierre-Paul Prud’hon.

And in 1911, Louis Béroud.

The Mona Lisa’s fame was emphasized when it was stolen on 21 August 1911.

On 22 August 1911, Louis Béroud walked into the Louvre and went to the Salon Carré where the Mona Lisa had been on display for five years. However, where the Mona Lisa should have stood, he found four iron pegs.

French poet Guillaume Apollinaire, who had once called for the Louvre to be “burnt down,” came under suspicion; he was arrested and put in jail. Apollinaire tried to implicate his friend Pablo Picasso, who was also brought in for questioning, but both were later exonerated.

(In 1900 Apollinaire would write his first pornographic novel, Mirely, ou le petit trou pas cher, which was eventually lost).

The 1991 film Hudson Hawk (1991) centers on a cat burglar who is forced to steal Da Vinci works of art for a world domination plot.

A colossally sour and ill-conceived misfire.

In 1812 France was devastated when its invasion of Russia turned out to be a colossal failure in which scores of soldiers in Napoleon’s Grand Army were killed or badly wounded.

Napoleon’s conquests in Europe were followed by a systematic attempt, later more tentatively echoed by Hitler, to take the finest works of art of conquered nations back to the Louvre in Paris for a grand central museum of all Europe.

Napoleon boasted:

We will now have all that is beautiful in Italy except for a few objects in Turin and Naples.

The contents of nearly all the tombs of the Pharaohs were already completely looted by grave robbers before the invasion of Egypt by Alexander the Great in 332 BCE.

Rome was sacked seven times.

King Shishak of Egypt attacked Jerusalem and took away the treasures of the Lord’s temple and of the royal palace. He took everything, including the gold shields that Solomon had made.

In the Book of Jeremiah 15:11 the Lord says:

Jerusalem, I will surely send you away for your own good. I will surely bring the enemy upon you in a time of trouble and distress. I will give away your wealth and your treasures as plunder. I will give it away free of charge for the sins you have committed throughout your land.

Sack of Constantinople by the Fourth Crusade, 1204.

The Sack of Baghdad, 1258.

Hernán Cortés and the looting of the Aztec gold.

Adolf Hitler was an unsuccessful artist who was denied admission to the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts.

The Third Reich amassed hundreds of thousands of objects from occupied nations and stored them in several key locations, such as Musée Jeu de Paume in Paris and the Nazi headquarters in Munich.

Later, storing the artworks in salt mines and caves for protection from Allied bombing raids.

These mines and caves offered the appropriate humidity and temperature conditions for artworks.

Raphael’s Portrait of a Young Man was confiscated from a Polish family by the Nazis in 1939 for Hitler’s Führermuseum in Linz.

It disappeared in 1945 shortly before the end of the Second World War.

On 1 August 2012, the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced that the painting had been found in a bank vault in an undisclosed location.

Thirty years after it was stolen, Camille Pissarro’s Le Marche aux Poissons was returned to the French.

Authorities believe they know who stole art from Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in the largest art heist in U.S. history.

Eventually they will resurface. Somebody will rat somebody else out. It’s really only a matter of time.

A drawing stolen from an ice cream shop is now back in the hands of its creator.

Jorge Luis Borges Uses Zeno’s Paradox to Describe Kafka’s Literature

I once premeditated making a study of Kafka’s precursors. At first I had considered him to be as singular as the phoenix of rhetorical praise; after frequenting his pages a bit, I came to think I could recognize his voice, or his practices, in texts from diverse literatures and periods. I shall record a few of these here, in chronological order.

The first is Zeno’s paradox against movement. A moving object at A (declares Aristotle) cannot reach point B, because it must first cover half the distance between two points, and before that, half of the half, and before that, half of the half of the half, and so on to infinity; the form of this illustrious problem is, exactly, that of “The Castle”, and the moving object and the arrow and Achilles are the first Kafkian characters in literature.

Read the rest of “Kafka and His Precursors” by Jorge Luis Borges here.

Peanuts/Borges/mbv (Books and an LP Acquired, 3.19.2013)

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Found this hardback first edition of Charles M. Schulz’s Happiness Is a Warm Puppy, a kids book printed on heavy stock colored paper with bold litho images and letters. The cover is a bit rough but the book itself seems untouched. It’s a first edition from 1962.

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Also picked up this collection of short essays by Jorge Luis Borges:

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And came home to find the new My Bloody Valentine Record I bought six weeks ago (and likely paid too much for, including overseas shipping, but hey, I’ll shop smarter next time they put out an LP):

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“On Being Idle” — Jerome K. Jerome

“On Being Idle” by Jerome K. Jerome

Now, this is a subject on which I flatter myself I really am au fait. The gentleman who, when I was young, bathed me at wisdom’s font for nine guineas a term—no extras—used to say he never knew a boy who could do less work in more time; and I remember my poor grandmother once incidentally observing, in the course of an instruction upon the use of the Prayer-book, that it was highly improbable that I should ever do much that I ought not to do, but that she felt convinced beyond a doubt that I should leave undone pretty well everything that I ought to do.

I am afraid I have somewhat belied half the dear old lady’s prophecy. Heaven help me! I have done a good many things that I ought not to have done, in spite of my laziness. But I have fully confirmed the accuracy of her judgment so far as neglecting much that I ought not to have neglected is concerned. Idling always has been my strong point. I take no credit to myself in the matter—it is a gift. Few possess it. There are plenty of lazy people and plenty of slow-coaches, but a genuine idler is a rarity. He is not a man who slouches about with his hands in his pockets. On the contrary, his most startling characteristic is that he is always intensely busy.

It is impossible to enjoy idling thoroughly unless one has plenty of work to do. There is no fun in doing nothing when you have nothing to do. Wasting time is merely an occupation then, and a most exhausting one. Idleness, like kisses, to be sweet must be stolen. Read More

“Chippings with a Chisel” — Nathaniel Hawthorne

“Chippings with a Chisel” by Nathaniel Hawthorne

Passing a summer several years since at Edgartown, on the island of Martha’s Vineyard, I became acquainted with a certain carver of tombstones who had travelled and voyaged thither from the interior of Massachusetts in search of professional employment. The speculation had turned out so successful that my friend expected to transmute slate and marble into silver and gold to the amount of at least a thousand dollars during the few months of his sojourn at Nantucket and the Vineyard. The secluded life and the simple and primitive spirit which still characterizes the inhabitants of those islands, especially of Martha’s Vineyard, insure their dead friends a longer and dearer remembrance than the daily novelty and revolving bustle of the world can elsewhere afford to beings of the past. Yet, while every family is anxious to erect a memorial to its departed members, the untainted breath of Ocean bestows such health and length of days upon the people of the isles as would cause a melancholy dearth of business to a resident artist in that line. His own monument, recording his decease by starvation, would probably be an early specimen of his skill. Gravestones, therefore, have generally been an article of imported merchandise.

In my walks through the burial-ground of Edgartown—where the dead have lain so long that the soil, once enriched by their decay, has returned to its original barrenness—in that ancient burial-ground I noticed much variety of monumental sculpture. The elder stones, dated a century back or more, have borders elaborately carved with flowers and are adorned with a multiplicity of death’s-heads, crossbones, scythes, hour-glasses, and other lugubrious emblems of mortality, with here and there a winged cherub to direct the mourner’s spirit upward. These productions of Gothic taste must have been quite beyond the colonial skill of the day, and were probably carved in London and brought across the ocean to commemorate the defunct worthies of this lonely isle. The more recent monuments are mere slabs of slate in the ordinary style, without any superfluous flourishes to set off the bald inscriptions. But others—and those far the most impressive both to my taste and feelings—were roughly hewn from the gray rocks of the island, evidently by the unskilled hands of surviving friends and relatives. On some there were merely the initials of a name; some were inscribed with misspelt prose or rhyme, in deep letters which the moss and wintry rain of many years had not been able to obliterate. These, these were graves where loved ones slept. It is an old theme of satire, the falsehood and vanity of monumental eulogies; but when affection and sorrow grave the letters with their own painful labor, then we may be sure that they copy from the record on their hearts. Read More

Book Acquired, 9.28.2012

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Foundation, a history of England from Peter Ackroyd. From a recent Guardian profile:

Ackroyd’s trademark insight and wit, and the glorious interconnectedness of all things, permeate each page. One thing that struck me was the realisation that history isn’t nearly as linear as we thought. Something is invented, or discovered, or philosophised, and we tend to think that that’s knowledge known from then on, but even in this single volume there are endless forgettings.

“Absolutely,” comes his fast answer, spoken, as ever, gently and with a strange mix of confidence and self-effacement. “One thing which most interested me was the fact that neglect, or our genius for forgetfulness, occurs at every level of social and political activity. The same mistakes, the same confusions, occur time and time again. It sometimes seems to me that the whole course of English history was one of accident, confusion, chance and unintended consequences – there’s no real pattern.”

What he discovered, or rediscovered, is that “what underlines that random happenstance are the deep continuities of national life that survive, uninfluenced by the surface events. In this book, I have little chapters on, say, medieval medicine, or punishment, or medieval humour, simply to convey the broad continuities that underlie this bewildering range of events. Continuities of the soil, the land, the earth.” And these help create human – English – sensibilities? “Yes. As I said in my London book, it’s a sort of territorial imperative, the landscape; the shape of the geology, almost, has a definite though not comprehended effect on human behaviour, human need. So that’s one of the things I was trying to explore I suppose.”

“The modern novel should be largely a work of reference” (Flann O’Brien)

 

In reply to an inquiry, it was explained that a satisfactory novel should be a self-evident sham to which the reader could regulate at will the degree of his credulity. It was undemocratic to compel characters to be uniformly good or bad or poor or rich. Each should be allowed a private life, self-determination and a decent standard of living. This would make for self-respect, contentment and better service. It would be incorrect to say that it would lead to chaos. Characters should be interchangeable as between one book and another. The entire corpus of existing literature should be regarded as a limbo from which discerning authors could draw their characters as required, creating only when they failed to find a suitable existing puppet. The modern novel should be largely a work of reference. Most authors spend their time saying what has been said before – usually said much better. A wealth of references to existing works would acquaint the reader instantaneously with the nature of each character, would obviate tiresome explanations and would effectively preclude mountebanks, upstarts, thimble-riggers and persons of inferior education from an understanding of contemporary literature. Conclusion of explanation.

—From Flann O’Brien’s novel At Swim-Two-Birds (1939).

 

“Thomas Browne Was Born in London on the 19th of October, 1605, the Son of a Silk Merchant” — W.G. Sebald

 

Thomas  Browne was born in London on the 19th of October 1605, the son of a silk merchant. Little is known of his childhood, and the accounts of his life following completion of his master’s degree at Oxford tell us scarcely anything about the nature of his later medical studies. All we know for certain is that from his twenty-fifth to his twenty-eighth year he attended the universities of Montpellier, Padua and Vienna, then outstanding in the Hippocratic sciences, and that just before returning to England, received a doctorate in medicine from Leiden. In January 1632, while Browne was in Holland, and thus at a time when he was engaging more profoundly with the mysteries of the human body than ever before, the dissection of a corpse was undertaken in public at the Waaggebouw in Amsterdam—the body being that of Adriaan Adriaanszoon alias Aris Kindt, a petty thief of that city who had been hanged for his misdemeanours an hour or so earlier. Although we have no definite evidence for this, it is probable that Browne would have heard of the dissection and was present at the extraordinary event, which Rembrandt depicted in his painting of the Guild of Surgeons, for the anatomy lessons given every year in the depth of winter by Dr Nicolaas Tulp were not only of the greatest interest to a student of medicine but constituted in addition a significant date in the agenda of a society that saw itself as emerging from the darkness into the light. The spectacle, presented before a paying public drawn from the upper classes, was no doubt a demonstration of the undaunted investigative zeal in the new sciences; but it also represented (though this surely would have been refuted) the archaic ritual of dismembering a corpse, of harrowing the flesh of the delinquent even beyond death, a procedure then still part of the ordained punishment. That the anatomy lesson in Amsterdam was about more than a thorough knowledge of the inner organs of the human body is suggested by Rembrandt’s representation of the ceremonial nature of the dissection—the surgeons are in their finest attire, and Dr Tulp is wearing a hat on his head—as well as by the fact that afterwards there was a formal, and in a sense symbolic banquet. If we stand today before the large canvas of Rembrandt’s The Anatomy Lesson in the Mauritshuis we are standing precisely where those who were present at the dissection in the Waaggebouw stood, and we believe that we see what they saw then: in the foreground, the greenish, prone body of Aris Kindt, his neck broken and his chest risen terribly in rigor mortis. And yet it is debatable whether anyone ever really saw that body, since the art of anatomy, then in its infancy, was not least a way of making the reprobate body invisible. It is somehow odd that Dr Tulp’s colleagues are not looking at Kindt’s body, that their gaze is directed just past it to focus on the open anatomical atlas in which the appalling physical facts are reduced to a diagram, a schematic plan of the human being, such as envisaged by the enthusiastic amateur anatomist René Descartes, who was also, so it is said, present that January morning in the Waaggebouw. In his philosophical investigations, which form one of the principal chapters of the history of subjection, Descartes teaches that one should disregard the flesh, which is beyond our comprehension, and attend to the machine within, to what can fully be understood, be made wholly useful for work, and, in the event of any fault, either repaired or discarded.

A passage from W.G. Sebald’s book The Rings of Saturn

 

Book Shelves #31, 7.29.2012

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Book shelves series #31, thirty-first Sunday of 2012

When I started this project I thought it would be a fun way to keep stock of the books that I have, and also a way to perhaps question why I hold on to the books that I hold on to.

I mean, why keep a book after you’ve read it?

Anyway, at times throughout this series I’ve gotten bored, or rushed; other times I’ve thought the idea was stupid, or narcissistic, or something even worse (although I don’t know what).

I like the shelves above the pedestrian, utilitarian jobber that I’ll feature this Sunday and the next: lots of aesthetically pleasing stuff there.

Not so this one, which holds photos and cookbooks and art books and old notebooks and sketchbooks and every kind of etcetera:

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At least that’s what I thought until I started digging into the cramped top shelf, dutifully bound to this project.

I wound up really enjoying myself, pausing over volumes that I haven’t looked at in ages, like this beauty:

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I’m not sure if the aesthetic joy of this postcard collection comes across in these lousy iPhone photo shots.

I got this on a trip to London when I was 11. It was just my mom and my brother and I. First we went to Singapore. We were coming back to the States for Christmas, and also to live, eventually. My brother broke his leg in Singapore jumping down some stairs and we didn’t realize it was broken until we got back to Florida.

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I used to draw and paint all the time, especially as a kid. Mostly animals.

There are at least a dozen skinny books like this on the shelf:

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I must have done hundreds of these as a kid:

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The shelf is also full of old comic strip collections that you probably recognize, like these guys:

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And this guy (and yes, I have the 7″ record from this collection)

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I also spent half an hour revising Rublowsky’s 1965 volume Pop Art, which is kind of fascinating in its contemporary proximity to its subject.

The cover’s not interesting, but Ken Heyman’s photos are; they show the artists in process. This one is kinda famous:

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And here’s Roy Lichtenstein:

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Privacy/Homesick (Books Acquired, Some Time Last Week, Both Bearing an Eye)

 

 

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Maybe you saw Garret Keizer on Colbert, or maybe you’ve read his stuff at Harper’s; anyway, his new little book Privacy seems pretty good. I’ve enjoyed all the titles in Picador’s BIG IDEAS // small books so far, and a scan over Privacy suggests another intriguing entry. Full review down the line.

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Roshi Fernando’s Homesick came out a few years ago in the UK; it’s now getting the deluxe treatment from Knopf. Their blurb:

In this stunningly assured debut work of fiction, Roshi Fernando weaves together the lives of an extended Sri Lankan family.

At Victor and Nandini’s home in southeast London, the New Year’s Eve celebration is under way. Everyone is gathered around—clinking glasses of arrack and whisky, eating freshly fried poppadoms, listening to baila music—waiting to ring in 1983. Upstairs, The Godfather is playing on repeat for a bedroom filled with teenagers drunk on pilfered wine. And in the middle of it all is sixteen-year-old Preethi, tipsy on youth and friendship and covert cigarettes, desperate to belong.

But what does that mean, to belong? As Preethi moves through her life—befriending the local outcast, revealing her brother’s deepest secret, struggling with her own unhappiness and through a souring marriage—this desire for acceptance remains the one constant, both for her and for everyone she knows.Homesick moves back and forth in time, between London and Sri Lanka, circling the people in Preethi’s world: her brother Rohan; her friends Nil, Clare, Deirdre, and Lolly; her aunty Gertie; and terrible cousin Kumar. Together, they are bound by this shared need to fit in somewhere, this rootless desire for a place to call home.

Gorgeously drawn, told with wit and pathos, this poignant narrative blends love with loss, politics with pop culture, tradition with youthful rebellion. Homesick is rich with insight and a kaleidoscopic view of contemporary immigrant life that introduces us to the work of Roshi Fernando, a remarkable new talent.

I usually sift through these books acquired books before I post, but I haven’t had time to do it thus far with Homesick, so I can’t really comment on the prose. The cover has an eye on it, so it’s here, in this post.

 

I Audit Hilary Mantel’s Bring Up the Bodies (Part 3 of 3)

Portrait of Thomas Cromwell, Hans Holbein the Younger

(Parts one and two for those who care).

I suppose one sign of a great book is that it leaves you wanting more, and as Bring Up the Bodies arrived smoothly and precisely to its end, I found myself wanting more—more of those impeccable period details, more shots of London crowds gathering to ogle corpses, more of Henry VIII’s pretzel logic—but most of all, more time in Thomas Cromwell’s mind, which is the supreme pleasure of the book. Mantel’s restraint pays off, although a glance at Bring Up the Bodies hardly seems restrained: it’s 432 pages in hardback, or 24 hours in the audiobook version I listened to. I usually shudder when a review copy of 400 pages shows up at Biblioklept World Headquarters. It seems to me that most books of 400 pages could be improved dramatically if the author cut 200 pages—or added 600 more. And surely Mantel could have added 600 or 700 pages to the story of Henry’s offing the Boleyn siblings. The material is just that rich. But Mantel knows what she’s doing here, and the book she delivers is balanced and thorough and engaging and, as I said, leaves the reader wanting more, leaves us anticipating the trilogy’s conclusion, The Mirror and the Light.

Mantel’s ability to express Cromwell’s keen intelligence reanimates the Tudor saga, which I frankly could give a rat’s ass about on its own. Okay, the plot is fascinating, but much of history fascinates. What’s remarkable is the manner by which Mantel channel’s Cromwell’s mind. His brain is always at work, and Mantel shows us that brain at work. It would be a mistake to suggest that Bring Up the Bodies has no prose style, but it’s difficult to describe the style—Mantel elides authorial intrusion; her free indirect style stays close to Cromwell’s perceptions, but she knows when to move her camera out, knows when to show her audience a shot of his face or a gesture of his hand when he receives some piece of information or imparts some command. She rarely tells us what Cromwell is thinking, instead allowing us to go through the cognitive process with him.

And that cognitive process never rests. There’s a remarkable passage near the end of the book that ties together so many of the book’s themes and images. I would quote in full but I listened to the audio, so I’ll have to paraphrase (forgiveness, please). Cromwell is busy making arrangements for the executions of Boleyn and the men accused of sleeping with her, and his mind turns somehow to imagery of gristle and bone and fat—and he wonders what the ancient Greek pagans and Hebrews of the bible did with the meat from their sacrifices—Surely they didn’t waste the meat, surely they gave it to the poor, he thinks. Cromwell figures Boleyn as a sacrifice and then converts that sacrifice into a concern for the common people of the commonwealth.

Of course, it’s a mistake to see Cromwell’s motivations as absolutely pure. The revenge plot of Bring Up the Bodies unfolds so smoothly that the reader (okay, this reader) is slow to catch on, to see how delicately and expertly Cromwell snares those who brought down his beloved mentor Cardinal Wolsey. His control is so precise (Mantel’s control is so precise) that he refuses to tip his hand to himself, let alone the schemers around him, let alone the reader.

Still, Bring Up the Bodies concludes with an uneasy Cromwell, a man already looking for solace in grandchildren, in some kind of futurity, in a life (in a rare metatextual gesture on Mantel’s part) on paper, a figure marked in ink and words. He’s too perceptive—too sharp a reader—not to see the writing on the wall, even if that wall is some years out, even if that writing is still malleable and undefined. Cromwell has controlled the myriad political, familial, and personal circumstances that surround the wishes of his prince, King Henry, but he knows that it’s only a matter of time before his favor falls.

Bring Up the Bodies is a fantastic sequel to Wolf Hall, picking up the reins in media res, yet never resting on that first book’s tropes (“Choose your prince”; “Arrange your face”), but rather absorbing them and then adding to them. Mantel has given those of us not particularly interested in historical fiction a great reason to read some, although dithering about genre seems silly here. Ultimately, she gives us a powerful, character-driven story, a story that we think we already know, but understand anew in her retelling. Recommended.

Apostle Islands/Another Country (Books Acquired, Some Time Last Week)

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Tommy Zurhellen’s Apostle Islands is forthcoming from indie Atticus. Their write up:

It’s not easy for a messiah to grow up in the Badlands of North Dakota. And it’s even harder for him to share his message when radical ideas and so-called “miracles” are the surest way to get the FBI breathing down your neck. The sequel to Nazareth, North DakotaApostle Islandsfollows Sam Davidson and his group of roughneck followers as they save wedding receptions, cure cancer patients, and boost a flagging fishing season, all while breaking bread and laws and making peace and enemies.

On a mission to change one botched up world, Sam knows he will one day be called to make the ultimate sacrifice, and indeed he sees the writing on the shores of Lake Superior when one of his inner circle betrays him. A playful and delightfully irreverent take on the New Testament, Apostle Islands reveals what it takes to shake up the status quo while paying the price to save the ones you love.

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Anjali Josephs’s Another Country also has a map on its cover. This one got a bit of a scathing review in The Guardian last week; the first few pages seem well written though. Blurb:

Paris, London, Bombay: three cities form a backdrop to a journey through Leela’s twenties at the dawn of the new millennium, as she learns to negotiate the world, work, relationships and sex, and find some measure of authenticity. Sharp, funny, and melancholy, Another Country brings a cool eye to friendship, love, and the idea of belonging in its movements through old and new worlds. As with her debut, Saraswati Park (2010), which won the Desmond Elliott Prize, the Betty Trask Prize and India’s Vodafone Crossword Prize, Anjali Joseph’s beautiful, clear writing captures exactly both emotions and surroundings.