My prescient husband gave me a copy of “Wolf Hall”, the novel about Henry VIII and Cromwell, for my birthday. I’ve read all the terrific reviews, and having read “Beyond Black” know what a wild, original risk-taker Mantel is. I’m also looking forward to learning some history for real. Non-fiction accounts, no matter how well written? In one ear and out the other. But fiction? Junot Diaz, Ha Jin, Ruta Sepetys, Luong Ung, Patricia McCormick make the facts stick. (Is there a diagnosis for this condition? It’s got to be linked to my inability to remember what floors my apartment-dwelling friends live on. If only they lived on “Bluebird” or “Cabernet” instead of “3” or “6”, I’d have no trouble).
“The Dead Are Real” is the title of a wonderful essay on Mantel in the Oct. 15 New Yorker. It’s full of pithy bits on writing fiction of any sort, including this one: A writer…”has complete power over what happens, but she must feel that her characters have free wil or else the dead hand of detemination will crush the book. She must feel that her control of them is partial–so light that it is barely sensed. Sometimes one of her charaacters will say something and it seems to her that she has no idea what is going to be said back until suddenly she does because there it is, on the page. When this happens, she knows the process is working.” This is as precise a description of the imprecise art of fiction writing as I’ve ever seen.
“Wolf Hall” sits on top of the pile beside my desk. I have yet to open it–and now Mantel has won the Man Booker for the sequel, “Bring Up the Bodies”. I’ll never catch up, but that’s okay.
Speaking of wisdom, how about this from Lois Lowry, whose book “Son” is another one I’m immensely looking forward to. Describing a speech where she said a few things that delighted her middle school audience but upset the adults (don’t be fooled, she said, into thinking these are your golden years–they are at best a dull beige), she realized she could talk to kids or she could talk to adults, but not both. “And so I chose the kids.”