There was more sad news this week with the sudden death of the author Hilary Mantel. It's come as a terrible shock and such a loss but, as various commentators have said, we are fortunate that she left us with such an extensive, magnificent body of work.
She will be best known, of course, for her trilogy about Henry VIII's adviser Thomas Cromwell. As critics challenged her portrayal of characters of this period, notably Thomas More, she said: “History is a process, not a locked box with a collection of facts inside,” she says. “The past and present are always in dialogue – there can hardly be history without revisionism."
And why were these books so popular? Guardian reviewer Claire Armitstead claimed that they held "a distressed glass up to our own times". Though Mantel was wary of direct comparisons: “I wouldn’t be happy to write the kind of moralising, manipulative fiction that forces correspondences between past and present.” But she acknowledged that “the same questions preoccupy us: how to live, how to govern, how to mediate between the world as we find it and the world we would like to see. The resonances change day by day. As events evolve, fiction evolves too, in the minds of readers as well as writers. It doesn’t stay fixed on the page, constant to one meaning.”
So what can Cromwell’s story teach the politicians of today, she was asked? “Be careful. You are no longer beheaded for your failures, but the Tower of London is still standing.”
Our book group meets tomorrow to discuss a debut novel imagining the life of the mother of Richard III, 'Cecily'. I'm sure we'll have much to ponder in addition to this particular book, in the light of this week's news. If you're thinking of coming along to the meeting, please reply to this email to let me know.
But as the novelist Sarah Perry wrote movingly for the Telegraph: "All afternoon, I have wondered what it means for a great writer to die. Is Homer dead? Is Woolf? Is any voice silent as long as it is heard? There will be no day when we do not need her, and no day when we cannot find her."
Thank you for reading.