If I woke this morning asking myself what I would write today, that question was painfully answered at about 11:20 when I was sitting at my desk, dealing with work emails, then doing a Greek lesson, and listening to the 42-minute Classical Music Interlude (the whole Autobahn album by Kraftwerk) I was playing on Radio Stradbroke. My phone flashed at me, and all I saw was Hilary Mantel. I knew in that moment what the news would be, stopped my Greek, clicked on the link, and saw the brief news article in full. I announced her death to my listeners ten minutes later when the music had stopped, and cried on air. What had already been a bad day had turned into an even worse day.
We have lost a genius. One of the best novelists, if not the best, of the 21st century, of any century. Someone with an eye for detail, an understanding of the hidden nooks of history, a feeling for the intricacies of the present, and for the conflicting motivations of the human beings that peopled the real world and the worlds of her books. For me, in the Wolf Hall trilogy, she took the stream of consciousness technique that James Joyce so brilliantly invented in Ulysses to new heights (and mostly with punctuation marks, even if the lack of punctuation makes Joyce’s streams just so much more real than fiction), putting us into the brain of someone we knew, before we even started reading the books, would be beheaded at the end of the third, yet another victim of yet another mercurial monarch in this country that has been so bruised and abused by monarchs.
What makes the Wolf Hall trilogy so extraordinary is that Mantel gave a voice to a man who has been misunderstood and consigned to being a footnote in history by far too many. Thomas Cromwell was actually a true reformer, a man who tried to redistribute wealth, tried to make the legislature more equitable. And this is the thing; for some reason people expect other people to only exhibit one characteristic, to be either entirely good or entirely bad. And yet real life doesn’t work like that; none of us are so one-dimensional. And neither was Cromwell; he kept some (a lot) of the wealth he was working on redistributing, he was as hungry for power and influence as the next person in those days, he wasn’t above putting the frighteners on people who got in his way or in the way of his plans, not above manipulating truth. And yet, he was generous with his charity, generous with his mind, with his thoughts. Henry VIII regretted his decision to have him killed a week after he was beheaded.
We have lost an artisan of the written word, a sharp observer of human and societal mores, a woman who knew what words mean and what power they have. As she said in 2013 – The pen is in our hands. A happy ending is ours to write. Or not.
AGGIE’S ART OF HAPPINESS – CHAPTER 218