‘Lock Cromwell in a deep dungeon in the morning,’ says Thomas More, ‘and when you come back that night he’ll be sitting on a plush cushion eating larks’ tongues, and all the gaolers will owe him money.’
Cromwell is a wholly original man: the son of a brutal blacksmith, a political genius, a briber, a charmer, a bully, a man with a delicate and deadly expertise in manipulating people and events. Ruthless in pursuit of his own interests, he is as ambitious in his wider politics as he is for himself. Hilary Mantel’s prize-winning Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies explore the man and motivations behind this most masterful of political figures.
How did you first come across Cromwell, and when did you decide to write about him?
I first came across him when I was a child learning history in a Catholic school. I grew up with the sainted Thomas More looking down from stained-glass windows. As I am a contrarian, it made me ask whether there was more to Cromwell’s story than just his opposition to More, and I carried that question with me. When I began writing, I registered him in my mind as a potential subject. This would have been in the 1970s, before I’d finished my first novel. There seemed to be a lot of blanks in his story, and it wasn’t easy to find out anything about him, but it’s in those gaps that the novelist goes to work. Read more…
This month we’ve been discussing the theme of Power on the blog. What better way to finish than with an extract from one of the most caustic satires of Power we’ve published in recent years, Joseph O’Neill’s Man Booker longlisted ‘The Dog’…
‘Caponata is a Sicilian dish of aubergine and other vegetables, cut into cubes and deep-fried, then mixed with sultanas and pine nuts, and marinated in an agrodolce (sweet-and-sour) sauce. In some parts of Sicilia, it is traditional to mix in little pieces of dark bitter chocolate. Because it is such a Southern dish, I had never even tasted it until I started cooking at Olivio. Then, one day when we were looking for something sweet and sour as an accompaniment, I found the recipe in a book and I remember thinking: ‘This will never work!’ But we made it, the explosion of flavour was brilliant, and has become one of my favourite things. You can pile caponata on chunks of bread, or serve it with mozzarella or fried artichokes. Because it is vinegary, it is fantastic with roast meat, as it cuts through the fattiness, particularly lamb. Traditionally it is also served with seafood – perhaps grilled or fried scallops (see page 108), prawns or red mullet. With red mullet, I like to add a little more tomatoes to the caponata.’
THE YEAR OF LIVING DANGEROUSLY is Andy Miller’s inspirational and very funny account of a year-long expedition through all the books he always wanted to read but couldn’t find the time. To mark the paperback release of the book today, Andy has kindly given us a behind-the-pages look at how his resolution to read brilliant books resulted in a brilliant book being written.
Power is a fickle mistress, likely to flit about the room and rest at random moments with unexpected allies. Its path is hard to track. Does it lie with the person that everyone talks about, waits for, looks at: a prime minister with an iconic handbag, an iconic hairdo, a woman that cameras permanently train their lens on – a woman undergoing minor eye surgery? Or does it lie in the eye of the beholder, with the unseen watcher, the photographer / sniper? ‘Just as a camera is a sublimation of the gun, to photograph someone is a subliminal murder – a soft murder, appropriate to a sad, frightened time’ said Susan Sontag. Perhaps, ultimately, power remains with she who watches the watcher. She whose opinion can become a dagger flying straight to the heart. She whose words can capture the crucial moment that everyone else missed, the ‘one easy wink of the world’s blind eye’. Read more…
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr has taken the Pulitzer Prize for fiction! The novel, a beautiful, stunningly ambitious tale about a blind French girl and a German boy whose paths collide in occupied France as both try to survive the devastation of World War II been described as ‘an imaginative and intricate novel inspired by the horrors of World War II and written in short, elegant chapters that explore human nature and the contradictory power of technology.’
*I like the works of double Man Booker Prize winner Dame Hilary Mantel
*I am a fan of Wolf Hall, her work of historical fiction
*I also enjoyed the sequel, Bring Up the Bodies
*I have read neither of the above, but would like to
*I am looking forward to The Mirror and the Light, the third in the series
*I partake in television watching Read more…
Until 2013, the name Gabriele D’Annunzio was known only to students of Italian history, devotees of Decadent poetry and fashionistas with an interest in turn-of-the-century menswear. Now the name of this repulsive yet compelling man rings many more bells, thanks to the thrilling Samuel Johnson prize-winning biography The Pike by Lucy Hughes-Hallett.
She details D’Annunzio’s evolution from an idealistic poet who allied himself with the Romantic aesthetic to an instigator of radical right-wing revolt against democratic authority, who eventually declared himself the Commandante of the city of Fiume in modern-day Croatia, intending to establish the utopian modern state upon his muddled fascist and artistic ideals and create a social paradigm for the rest of the world. Read more…