Hilary Mantel has created an entirely evocative and compelling portrait of Thomas Cromwell and the historic figures with whom he rubbed elbows, strategized and connived, and did the King's bidding. He is depicted as a highly complex character, worldly and pragmatic, intelligent and cunning, and very much in control of his corner of the world. The sensibility is very modern although the depiction of Tudor England is convincing and detailed. What I most appreciated about this book - in fact loved very much (apart from the unique perspective it takes in presenting the story through Cromwell's eyes) was Simon Slater's brilliant reading. It is spot on in terms of how he gives voice to each of the many characters, and the timbre of his voice is perfectly in sync with the rhythms of Mantel's writing. This is by far one of the best matches of narrator's voice and story that I've yet listened to. The story is dense with interweaving lives and dramas and a long list of characters, so that keeping track of all of them is a challenge. I referred to the physical book throughout the entire period - several months - when I was listening to it on my drive to and from work. Now I've begun listening to it a second time, with the characters more clearly identified and organized in my head, and with their stories more understandable. This book is an achievement on many levels and it's clear why it won the Man Booker Prize. If there were Academy Awards for "best narrator" Simon Slater should get it. He "acts" the voices in a way that's almost cinematic. In fact, throughout I found myself seeing the story as film, and hoping that one day I'll be able to watch it as a multi-part Masterpiece Theater series, or something like that. It'll no doubt see the big screen as it deserves to.
This audiobook is challenging though fascinating listening. The exploration of how we use language to represent our social, psychic and physical worlds is well researched and often surprising and amusing. It's rather difficult to keep one's concentration given the complexity of many of the ideas and theories presented here. I've often wished I was reading the actual text, to see the words and technical jargon on the printed page. There do seem to be gaps in the narrative, and I plan to go to the hard copy version of the book now that I've finished listening. Worth the effort, though, for the insights it offers on how we process language to negotiate the worlds we live in.
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