Hilary Mantel won the Man Booker Prize a few hours ago, for Bring Up the Bodies, a book I greatly admire. I reviewed it for the Globe and Mail back in May: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/arts/books-and-media/bring-up-the-bodies-by-hilary-mantel/article4106421/
You do need to read Wolf Hall first (even if the publishers say you don’t) but that’s possibly even better, and also won the Man Booker.There’s a profile of Mantel in the New Yorker this week, by the way. Success came late, and deservingly.
Along with a few others, I don’t essentially agree (as a writer) with this approach to treating the inner lives of real people, but I’d worry about my responses as a reader if I let that stop me from appreciating excellence on this scale.
For a treatment of history and real lives (rather more recent history, even more chillling than the dangerous court of Henry VIII) I have been recommending Laurent Binet’s HHhH. The odd title is an acronym for ‘Himmler’s Brain is Called Heydrich’, which was apparently widely used at the time in Berlin … and the book treats the Czech assassination of Heydrich. Binet shares my resistance to appropriating the thoughts and feelings of historical figures – but takes an utterly different approach to dealing with this. It is a exceptional book about an incident too little known outside the Czech Republic.
The small church where the assassins and their fellows were trapped is now a memorial, and the crypt below it where most of them died can be visited. It is deeply moving, with a very well done explanation of the context and the event in the room up above. I’d put it very high on any list for visitors to Prague. And Binet’s book is a superb, distinctive telling of the story.
Here are two photos from there, SS Cyril and Methodius Church, a walk from Wenceslas Square, towards the river.