Sunday, September 22, 2013

Two Big Books

The last two books I've read have been fairly lengthy ones. Together they total over 1,300 pages, and neither one is for the faint-of-heart reader, really.
Both are excellent, in their own way.

Firstly, Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel.
Most of you will know that this novel won the Booker Prize for 2009. The sequel, Bring Up The Bodies won in 2012, hence, Hilary Mantel joins Peter Carey and J.M. Coetzee as the only two time winners, and she is the first to win with a sequel. Quite an accomplishment.  Also, she is the first to win with such a short interlude between books. In other words, she's on a roll! She's probably not too worried about the rising cost of brussels sprouts.
The third in the series is now being written.
This is a top-heavy book. By that I mean you really have to stick with it to enjoy it. The first stages can be criticized [I think] for being a bit daunting, history-wise and all. You've got to want to immerse yourself in 1520's England, you really do. But once you get the idea that this thing is really about Thomas Cromwell, you sort of get hooked, I think. On the wonderfully fashioned protagonist.
Cromwell [a real historical personage] climbs from a life of un-gentlemanly obscurity to incredible prominence in the court of King Henry VIII. He gets entwined in all the intrigues of court life, managing to prosper and advance himself through sheer ingenuity, sharp business sense, and personal charisma. Possessing the perfect blend of theoretical and practical wisdom while others are falling from heights of popularity and even being burned at the stake now and then, Thomas soars to ever newer heights of political power and influence.
The book is too grand to summarize in any paragraph. I encourage you though, to be brave, and stick with Wolf Hall to the end.

Secondly, Cutting For Stone by Abraham Verghese.
This story takes place largely in 1950's Ethiopia, but also branches out into later decades in America. It is the story of twin brothers orphaned at birth, and immediately abandoned by their father. The boys are raised by doctors from the hospital in which they were born, and they mature into distinct personalities with as many similarities between them as there are differences. One of the boys develops a childhood love for a girl named Genet -- and his brother robs her of her virginity. Not only does this create a rift between the two boys, but later in life, the radical political actions of the girl herself causes Marion [that's his name, the boy who truly loved her in the as yet non-physical sense] to be exiled to America.
In this actual separation from each other, the young men [both now doctors] become even further estranged -- that is, until dire events in America create a reunion situation which will call for ultimate acts of self-sacrifice, reconciliation and forgiveness.
This is a brilliant, epic, sprawling book -- and again, it seems so impossible to do justice to it in a brief review. Suffice it to say it is probably the best book I have yet read this year. I found it entirely engrossing and interesting -- but having said that, I should add that there is a lot of technical medical rigamarole in Cutting For Stone. I enjoyed this, but not all readers will. I've read reviews where Verghese [a doctor himself] is criticized for his emphasis on medical terminology etc. Apparently, this did not appeal to everyone.
For me, it only added to the incredible verisimilitude of this entire story. I agree with none other than John Irving, who said of it -- "I’ve not read a novel wherein medicine, the practice of it, is made as germane to the storytelling process, to the overall narrative, as the author manages to make it happen here."
Cutting For Stone is just so well constructed, interesting, and deeply moving. 

I highly recommend it.


Stefanie said...

So glad you liked Wolf Hall! I loved it and have been trying to get to the second book since June but haven't managed to work it in to my reading schedule yet. Cutting for Stone is on my TBR list so I am glad you enjoyed that one too!

Cipriano said...

Wolf Hall is such a great book, but I have talked to a few people that sort of stopped early on with it because they felt it was getting bogged down -- and it does, sort of do that. It's just one of those books you have to trust, in a way -- to redeem itself, and it does.
I think you will really love Cutting For Stone -- it's just crazy good.