Hilary Mantel is a novelist of great power, wit and intelligence, one of the finest now writing in England. Her early novels were hideously funny accounts of professional families with lives verging on dysfunction. Even darker themes followed, the brilliant Beyond Black presenting a female medium beset by real fiends. Mantel’s Catholic education set her moral compass, and her experience of living in Africa and then Saudi Arabia opened up new areas of darkness in her always fierce imagination. Her memoir, Giving Up the Ghost, is as remarkable as her fiction.
Unlike most historical novelists, she writes without sentimentality. Her two hefty volumes on Thomas Cromwell, brutal adviser to King Henry VIII — the King who destroyed the English monasteries and beheaded two of his six wives — have captured the British reading public and carried off all the prizes with the vigor of the narrative and minutely evoked detail of Cromwell’s day-to-day life. Amazingly, she makes a man renowned for nastiness into a sympathetic hero.
Tomalin, a biographer, has written about the lives of Charles Dickens and Jane Austen
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