Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Speaking of Hilary Mantel, let's talk about Fludd

Congratulations to Hilary Mantel on winning the 2009 Man Booker Prize!

Not being one for getting involved in reading whole collections of books on long lists, short lists or any kind of lists truth be known, I was interested in the choice of the shortlist for this years Man Booker Prize simply because I noticed Hilary Mantel's latest book, Wolf Hall, was on there. I have now read two Mantel books and loved both of them, so the shortlist piqued my interest. Then I read a review Wolf Hall and that interested me even more. The book is a work of historical fiction about life at court during Henry VIII's time and particularly about Thomas Cromwell's part in it. Oooo... right up my street, history, fiction and Thomas Cromwell and his mates! So, as I haven't read it yet I am not in a position to review it here, but, it is going on my Christmas Wish list and if it arrives in my Christmas stocking I'll let you know what I think of it then!

I am going to talk about another book of Hilary Mantel's though, one that I recently read during my book reading fest whilst I was absent from blogging - Fludd. The story is set in a fictional village called Featherington which is a cotton town in the north of England and the action takes place around 1956. It is a work which looks at religion and religious mysticism and one which asks some searching questions about the Catholic Church of the time. Although the word Catholic is never mentioned in the story, parallels to the faith are clear. Mantel's disclaimer at the front of the book is obviously aimed at a higher power than any human authority. An amusing beginning to a very entertaining book.

Father Angwin is the parish priest in Featherington and is particularly old fashioned in his ministry. One day the bishop comes to call and orders Angwin to get rid of some of the decrepit statues from the church and to spruce the place up a bit. The old priest doesn't want to part with the relics and starts to devise a plan to keep them. Before the bishop leaves that day he mentions to Angwin that he will be sending a curate to "help and assist" him. The priest is dismayed by this news because of a guilty secret he has that he believes will be uncovered; for the last 20 years he has not believed in god but he does believe in the devil and what's more, he believes the devil incarnate is one of the local villagers sent there to taunt him because of his lack of faith!
Not long after the bishop's visit a young man appears on the doorstep of the priest's house wearing priests clothes and carrying what looks like a doctors bag. He is a curious priest called Fludd and seems to have a mysterious effect on everyone he meets. People seem unable to tell Fludd anything but the truth and he has the unusual ability to clear his plate of food and empty his glass of whisky without anybody ever seeing him eat or drink. As the story unfolds Fludd becomes a confidant to Sister Philomena who is one of the young nuns in the parish convent. She has been sent into the convent from Ireland after a childhood bout of psoriasis is mistaken for stigmata. Their friendship develops and Sr Philomena becomes the only person to discover the truth about Fludd.

Hilary Mantel masterfully draws the picture of life in a cotton town in Lancashire in the 1950's. Her wit is sharp and often scathing and inevitably this story becomes a commentary on the Church and a debate about good versus evil. It is also very funny and when Sr. Philomena states that in her world a priest in the family is worth three or four nuns, I was instantly transported back to my own school days attending a convent and had pictures in my mind of the nuns who always seemed to be able to float along the corridors there. It is a wonderful, thought provoking book and well worth the read. I can hear Sister Sheila Mary telling us off in assembly as we speak!

Have you read this or any other Hilary Mantel books?


  1. This sounds really interesting! I was pleased that she won, her writing is so diverse, each book is different.

  2. It was such a great book, Dot, I was enthralled and it is really a very long short story which took no time at all to read. I really like Hilary Mantel and am on the lookout for anything of hers I can find now.