Books On The Bedside Table

Thursday, July 26, 2012

After a series of false starts that left me wondering when, if ever, I would again feel the exquisite agony of a brilliant book coming to an end, I struck gold with four consecutive winners.

I lost a lot of beauty sleep, but they were (nearly) worth every wrinkle.  Enjoy.  

Bring Up The Bodies by Hillary Mantel.
The magic of Hilary Mantel is that she makes history utterly contemporary and - incredibly - suspenseful.  We know the ending, but can't stop turning the pages to find out, What next?

In Wolf Hall, the Man-Booker Prize-winning first installment in her phenomenal trilogy, Mantel chronicles the rise and rise of Thomas Cromwell, a man of low birth and obscure background, who transforms himself into Henry VIII's most trusted advisor by negotiating his marriage to Anne Boleyn, and, consequently, England's separation from Rome.

As Bring Up The Bodies opens, Anne has failed to deliver the male heir she's promised Henry and her witty barbs, once charming, have begun to chafe.  Henry is now in the market for a more fertile and complacent companion, and, once again, Cromwell must clear the way for the king's remarriage.  Spanning nine pivotal months, the book concentrates on the three weeks during which Anne falls definitely out of favor and is arrested, tried and executed.  Cromwell survives the woman whose fortunes raised his own, but realizes it's only a matter of time before his own head is on a stake.

If, like me, you can't get enough, listen to this author interview.  The wait for book three is excruciating.

Note: if you were off-put by pronoun confusion in Wolf Hall (I often found myself rereading passages to confirm who was speaking or being referred to), good news - Mantel has addressed this issue.  The pages of Bringing Up The Bodies will fly through your fingers.

The Hare With Amber Eyes by Edmund de Waal
To the bookseller who warned that the first 175 pages might be a slog, as it was all a bit academic: (a) I don't know what you were talking about, and (b) nothing could have put me off after reading the opening chapter.  Pitch perfect.  It's hardly fair that, as one of the worlds leading contemporary ceramicists, writing isn't even his day job.

In this epic memoir, Edmund de Waal tells his family's history by tracing the origin and progression of his unique inheritance: a collection of 264 Japanese netsuke carvings.  His appearance at the Sydney Writers' Festival (listen herehad the audience (and this at-home listener) in tears.  Unforgettable.

The Stranger's Child by Alan Hollinghurst.
You could be forgiven for coming away from The Stranger's Child with the understanding that everyone in early 20th century England was secretly gay.   That said, I was mesmerized by Hollinghurst's extraordinary capacity for conjuring so perfectly the internal dialogue of every character, and the shifting nuances of every one of their social encounters, as the narrative changed perspective and period.  Incredibly powerful writing, and a compelling storyline.  I was under the doona with a flashlight, way, way past my bedtime.

All That I Am by Anna Funder
Is it right to issue a review before actually finishing the book?  I am applying the love-at-first-sight rule and, saying, YES.  I stumbled into this one - it was a gift and I deliberately didn't read the jacket notes.  So glad that I did.  I'll do you the same favor by not commenting on the text, but simply urge you to pick it up.  I am 1/3 of the way through and could barely put it down to t y p e t  h  i  s   ....


  1. Hey Kate! I took an ALT online class with you and am just now going through the blog roll. Melbourne is the #1 place I want to visit! I am planning on doing a study abroad program there next summer! Anyway, I am a new follower of your blog!

  2. Hi, just stopping by after seeing you on the blog roll from the Content is King class at Alt Summit. What a fortuitous move...I just finished reading (a not so terrific) book and was anxious to find a new one for our upcoming vacation.

    Looking forward to reading more!


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