Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Tournament of Books 4th Quarter Final

Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel


How Should a Person Be? by Sheila Heti

The judge on this round was Saeed Jones who is the editor of BuzzFeed LGBT. 

Another round like Gone Girl, where it's assumed Bring Up The Bodies is going to win yet another award, a thought that also entered Saeed's head when these two books arrived.

Saeed 'felt as though I was being tested. This wasn't about reading a novel. It was about whether or not I would “get it.” '
As I would feel if having to read one of the most talked about books of last year, something I always try to avoid doing.

As for How Should a Person Be? He went in with no prior knowledge of this author and her work at all. 

He read the novels concurrently, moving back and forth every few chapters, which is how he usually reads, like myself. In this case though, it didn't really work as he felt that 'one novel kept asking me questions and the other insisted that it already had all of the answers.'

Here's an abbreviation of his run down on both novels.

'Mantel is an elegant and calculating writer. From the novel’s opening sentence—“His children are falling from the sky”—to a comedic scene in which Henry VIII falls asleep in the middle of a banquet to Cromwell’s confrontations with both the freshly dead and soon-to-be dead, Bring Up the Bodies reads like a gorgeous trap. It’s an interesting feat. We know, mostly, who and how this tale will end. As we hover just behind Cromwell’s shoulder, we watch him allow his prey to believe they are in fact the predators.
In contrast to Mantel’s brooding and complicated plot, Sheila Heti’s protagonist muses and moans her way through the pages. There isn't exactly a plot, so much as a movement through time, cities, and conversations. I’m not complaining. Heti’s experimentation with form as well as the deceptively comic nature of her writing thrilled me.
My initial fear that the gravity of Mantel’s novel would overshadow not only its competitor, but me as well, slowly dissipated as I read both books. Though I initially underestimated Heti’s comic novel, I felt as though I had crossed a threshold when one of her characters remarked, “You have to know where the funny is, and if you know where the funny is, you know everything.”
If I had to pick a turning point in my experience reading these two books, that was it. This wasn't just a funny, clever novel; it was a novel featuring women I felt as though I knew and questions I certainly have asked myself.
More than just “a novel from life,” Heti’s novel is a product of the kind of questions we ask ourselves in the company of our loneliness. 
It wasn't long before the distance between myself and Mantel’s characters began to seem an impassable expanse. Bring Up the Bodies is a force to be reckoned with, to be sure. But you can’t have a conversation with a force. You witness it, survive it, grapple with the awe of it.
Impressive as Mantel’s undertaking may be, I found it difficult to be moved by a plot that was ultimately a foregone conclusion. And, if we’re being frank, I’m not sure what I have to gain from yet another novel in which women are royal chess pieces. I was hoping to read a novel that I could engage with, mull over, and look in the eyes. How Should a Person Be?, it turns out, has beautiful eyes.'

I love an unexpected ending! I'm quite happy Bring Up The Bodies didn't win though it doesn't stand me in good stead on the Hungry Like The Woolf table, I've now dropped down to 8th place (unhappy face!) 

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