Deep in the 16th Century…..The Tudors by G.J. Meyer and Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel. Also Eowyn Ivey’s The Snow Child

I’m only just coming up for air after a week of immersion in 16th-century England. I’ve been glutting on books while on vacation. It’s making me a dull dinner partner as I’m either reading or sitting with glazed eyes meditating on what I’ve read, and I can’t wait to get back to my books (e-Reader). It’s such a luxury to be able to read for hours at a time; this fall and winter have been so busy I haven’t been able to post on things I’ve read; and the reading I’ve done has been of the fits-and-starts kind, a few snatched minutes here and there. Not satisfying. But a week in Tudor England with two brilliant writers? Heaven. Add in 25 degree weather, sunshine, palm trees and the fact that the kids are old enough to play without hawklike supervision? I know, such decadence. I’ve been hoarding books in my e-Reader and finally, finally, I’m diving in.

G.J. Meyer’s The Tudors: The Complete Story of England’s Most Notorious Dynasty is a wonderful piece of research and writing on everyone’s favourite dynasty. I’ve read many books on this period of history and this book is one of the very best I’ve read. Full of insights and thought-provoking observations, G.J. Meyer has given me a whole new way to view this family. It’s interesting that popular culture has decided to present the Tudors in a specific way – we have certain accepted images of Henry VIII, Mary and Elizabeth I, but Meyer’s book looks critically at these images and now I do too. Chiefly, the idea that Elizabeth was a peace-loving monarch who cared about her people. Propaganda! She was nearly as bloodthirsty as her father, and that’s saying something. I’ve always thought that the reason Elizabeth was reluctant to execute Mary Queen of Scots was because a) she didn’t want to kill her own cousin, and b) she didn’t want to set a precedent of executing an anointed sovereign. B) is closer to the reason that Meyer gives, that with Mary gone, there would be little reason for the Protestants to keep her, Elizabeth, on the throne, and Elizabeth’s aim was to survive and to maintain the status quo. She was always struggling between two opposing religious camps; the Protestants and the Catholics. Her version of the church was one that apparently only she believed in, so she was forced to maintain a balancing act between the two opposing forces. Conversely, Mary (known as Bloody Mary) was not as savage as we’ve thought. Why? Read the book. It’s a big mouthful but tasty, chewy, and totally worthwhile.

Hilary Mantel’s Bring Up the Bodies, the sequel to her wonderful Wolf Hall, continues the story of Thomas Cromwell as he copes with Henry VIII’s disappointment with Anne Boleyn and his desire to be shed of her and to marry Jane Seymour. Cromwell is another incredibly fascinating historical character and it is great fun to see this episode through his eyes. Mantel’s characterization of Cromwell is complex, thorough, and you can’t help respecting him. In fact, I adored him. I’m worried that Mantel’s next book with deal with his downfall over Anne of Cleves.

I took a deep breath, then I selected Eowyn Ivey’s The Snow Child from my Reader list: an icy plunge into the wilderness of early 20th-century Alaska – the contrast of the realistic setting with the fairytale storyline is captivating. What happens with a mature childless couple, having gone to Alaska to start new lives, make a snow child, then find a real little girl who flits back and forth between them and the forest? Is she a real child, orphaned, or is she a supernatural being? A beautifully retold fairy tale. I finished it in a day, holding my breath the whole time. Exquisite. Wonderful.

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