Hilary Mantel is one of those authors whose work I keep feeling like I should read, but then being too overwhelmed by the degree of seriousness to start. So I went for the audiobook solution, listening as I commuted for a fortnight.
Fludd is set in 1950s Lancashire, up in the Pennines. For those who don’t live in this area, it might be surprising that these are several villages and small towns that are very much Catholic, here in the cradle of methodism and in a country that has been officially protestant since the turn of the 17th Century. So the idea of this insular community, with an equal distrust of Yorkshiremen and Protestants seems very lifelike to me. Then we have the named characters, from a priest who has lost his faith, a nun who isn’t quite sure what she is doing and a bishop who wan’t to modernise this parish.
This novel is about the changing of times, faith and human nature. As a new arrival, Fludd challenges the existing community, sowing new thoughts and ideas. And then there are the small miracles that occur in his presence.
However despite all this, I couldn’t enjoy the climax the book finished at. It could so easily have gone somewhere else in those last couple of chapters, and made a larger point. Of course it is possible that the whole point was the individuality of the divine, and that deeper meaning needs another reading to solidify.
I was vaguely aware of these awards, but hadn’t really paid much attention. But it looked like the perfect size for my journey home when I found myself in Birmingham New Street station (now including Foyles) without a single piece of reading material. I am fond of short stories, as is stated in the introduction:
… the art of making the fewest words carry the greatest burden of narrative drive, tension, atmosphere, sentiment, wit, even humour. You can summon an entire world in 8,000 words or fewer, and the pointed brevity of your words will make it resonate in your reader’s mind with a force that is out of all proportion to the slimness of the word-count.
With just five tightly-written stories, exploring key human experiences of death and familial love. I had hear of only 2 of these authors, and had only previously read work by Haddon. From this collection I was very impressed by Jonathan Buckley’s Briar Road, where we explore grief, mysticism and cynicism, and Frances Leviston’s Broderie Anglaise, dealing with a conflicted mother-daughter relationship in adulthood. Both of these were the sorts of story where afterwards it was necessary to rest the book for a while, and let the story echo through my mind for a few minutes. I will be looking out for more of their work in the future.
The remaining stories were also strong, but not to my personal taste. It reminded me that I can’t get on with Hilary Mantel, and the others were just too grim for me. Maybe I just needed something lighter after a long day and an early start!