Monday, 18 March 2013

Tournament of Books - 7th Opening Round


Round 7th’s judge was Jack Hitt who writes for the New York Times Magazine, the New Yorker, and Rolling Stone.


Both books are works of historical fiction based on true events.

HHhH is set in World War Two and is all about two Czechoslovakian parachutists who were sent on mission by London to assassinate Reinhard Heydrich, chief of the Nazi secret services. His boss is Heinrich Himmler; everyone in the SS says 'Himmler's brain is called Heydrich', which in German spells "HHhH".

Bring Up The Bodies is Hilary Mantel’s second Man Booker Prize winning historical novel about Thomas Cromwell. In this book, he watches as Henry VIII falls in love with Jane Seymour whilst still married to Anne Boleyn.

Neither books hold any interest for me but they have been hugely popular over the last year so ignoring my negative point of view, let’s see what Jack had to say on them and who went through from this round.

Starting with HHhH, the book is written as fiction but has a lots of facts throughout the book that are narrated but it’s unknown if the narrator is supposed to be the author or not.  I’ll quote him here ‘The tone of the narrator’s offstage whispers comes off, eventually, as stiffly posed, and can range from querulous to snarking to twee. They are like those imitators of David Foster Wallace who riddle their story with sardonic footnotes, full of winking ironies; after a while, it just seems like a whole lot of winking. Sometimes the narrator can sound like a sophomore in a lit class: “Sometimes I feel like a character in a Borges story.”
Even the weedy issues of how to tell the story persistently emerge amid its shards. At one point, the narrator reads a novel related to his story and marvels at a blunt transition sentence that reads, “1920 had just begun.” The narrator adds, “I think that’s brilliant.” A few pages later, a riff on Heydrich’s early life ends, “It is November 9, 1918.”
But in the guts of this story is a breathtaking thriller and we never get to be simply seized by the details of it.
It’s as close to a true heroic epic as there ever could be, and yet the snarky rhetorical apostrophes about history are, finally, frustrating, because some part of any reader yearns to be seduced by story.’

As for Bring up The Bodies, he was lured in from the beginning by the story itself to the way she can shape a sentence such as this one ‘He is not a man wedded to action, Boleyn, but rather a man who stands by, smirking and stroking his beard; he thinks he looks enigmatic, but instead he looks as if he's pleasuring himself’,
He felt he wasn’t distracted by worrying about the facts of the story and was seduced by the way Hilary Mantel writes.

So, not surprisingly, Bring Up The Bodies won this round.

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