52 weeks – 23 December, 2012

Book

Bring up the BodiesRead Hilary Mantel’s Bring up the Bodies, a sequel to her stunning 2009 novel, Wolf Hall. It’s another rich experience: once again, you are completely immersed in the intrigues of the court of Henry VIII. The books follow consecutive segments of the career of Thomas Cromwell, a lowly-born but clever and ambitious man who becomes the king’s chief adviser. In Wolf Hall, Cromwell assists with both the annulment of the king’s marriage to Katherine of Aragon and the establishment of the doctrine of royal supremacy over the church, concurrent with the Protestant Reformation — these drastic measures being necessary to support the King in his desire to marry Anne Boleyn. In Bring up the Bodies, Anne has disappointed the King in providing him with only a daughter instead of the male heir he so passionately desires. Cromwell assists the King to get rid of Anne so that he can marry Jane Seymour.

It’s a great strength of the book that you see all the events through Cromwell’s eyes. You see them with the emotional immediacy of a novel while absorbing the feel of the period: historical facts are presented within a richly textured narrative that makes you feel you are there, living in this complex world.

Cromwell is hardly a likeable character but he is a man well suited to his times: cunning, pragmatic and flexible, with the mind of a lawyer. He understands Henry and his skill in fulfilling Henry’s wishes has enabled him to profit well from the association. He continues to accumulate money, goods and power.

No fee attached to the post of Secretary. The scope of the job is ill-defined and this suits him; whereas the Lord Chancellor has his circumscribed role, Mr Secretary can inquire into any office of state or corner of government. He has letters from throughout the shires, asking him to arbitrate in land disputes or lend his name to some stranger’s cause. People he doesn’t know send him tittle-tattle about their neighbours, monks send accounts of disloyal words spoken by their superiors, priests sift for him the utterances of their bishops. The affairs of the whole realm are whispered in his ear, and so plural are his offices under the Crown that the great business of England, parchment and roll awaiting stamp and signet, is pushed or pulled across his desk, to himself or from himself. His petitioners send him malmsey and muscatel, geldings, game and gold; gifts and grants and warrants, lucky charms and spells. This has been going on since first he came into the king’s favour. He is rich.

And naturally, envy follows. His enemies dig out what they can, about his early life. ‘So, I went down to Putney,’ Gardiner had said. ‘Or, to be accurate, I sent a man. They said down there, who’d have thought that Put-an-edge-on-it would have risen so high? We all thought he’d be hanged by now.’

Despite his many ill-wishers, Cromwell manages well by depending on his intelligence and quick thinking, and he is somewhat insulated from the insults and posturing of his enemies at court by the King’s regard. The King, though, has a mercurial temperament so Cromwell can never relax his guard.

The swift and ruthless destruction of Anne Boleyn and her five supposed lovers is chilling. They are interrogated by Cromwell, but there is no real way out. They are in the way and they must be removed.

Statements, indictments, bills are circulated, shuffled between judges, prosecutors, the Attorney General, the Lord Chancellor’s office; each step in the process clear, logical, and designed to create corpses by due process of law. George Rochford will be tried apart, as a peer; the commoners will be tried first. The order goes to the Tower, ‘Bring up the bodies.’ Deliver, that is, the accused men, by name Weston, Brereton, Smeaton, and Norris, to Westminster Hall for trial.

This is another remarkable book from Hilary Mantel and I am looking forward to the third in the trilogy.

Food

Heirloom saladA happy contrast to rich Christmas fare, this salad at Heirloom Vegetarian restaurant on South Granville is satisfying and a complete meal. With pear, hazelnuts, fennel, roasted Brussels sprouts, and an “orange blossom” vinaigrette — there’s a flavour in the dressing that I couldn’t pin down, but it was delicious — I could eat here a lot and would never miss meat or fish.

Music

Festive Bach CantatasDecember is a special month for music, and choral concerts are my favourite way to get into the Christmas mood. This was Festive Bach Cantatas for Christmas, featuring Marc Destrubé and Early Music Vancouver’s Bach Cantata Project Players, soprano Shannon Mercer, alto Laura Pudwell, tenor Colin Balzer and baritone Sumner Thompson. An afternoon of glorious music in the spectacular Chan Centre with a happily receptive audience — a great way to get that goodwill to all men feeling.

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