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marcus continued

“LeBov enjoyed the rhetorical vague. He relished not naming something, in not even talking about something. I felt his pleasure as he refused to say whatever he was obviously thinking. He didn’t even really say what he was saying. Instead he found some way to make it seem that someone else was saying it, someone he looked down on. He was only the vessel, raped in the mouth and made to channel the words of an invader. This kind of concealment was supposed to create tension, build mystery. We spoke in code, but no one was listening in, and we no longer knew the original language to which our niceties would be translated back. We were trapped in the code now for good. A language twice removed, stepped on, boiled into a paste, and rubbed into an animal’s corpse.”

LeBov isn’t quite the villain, but he’s absolutely the snake in the garden, or perhaps just Wallace Stevens’s Lunatic of One Idea. The plague of language isn’t his fault, but his battle against it incurs awful costs, warps and cracks anything it touches, not least of all Marcus’s diction and syntax. The result is something complex and difficult, defeated and hopeless, hard to read but impressive in its comprehensiveness and sorrow.

January 20, 2012, 11:00am   Comments

hilary mantel, wolf hall

"He can’t imagine himself reading to his household; he’s not, like Thomas More, some sort of failed priest, a frustrated preacher. He never sees More — a star in another firmament, who acknowledges him with a grim nod — without wanting to ask him, what’s wrong with you? Or what’s wrong with me? Why does everything you know, everything you’ve learned, confirm you in what you believed before? Whereas in my case, what I grew up with, and what I thought I believed, is chipped away a little and a little, a fragment then a piece and then a piece more. With every month that passes, the corners are knocked off the certainties of this world: and the next world too. Show me where it says, in the Bible, ‘Purgatory.’ Show me where it says ‘relics, monks, and nuns.’ Show me where it says ‘Pope.’"

An early iteration of the novel’s great conflicts, between the Catholic institution and the vernacular Bible, between absolutist rectitude and a kind of realpolitik, between Thomas Cromwell and Thomas More, with More being what Wallace Stevens called “the lunatic of one idea.”

But: in addition to all of the rich themes, the tart and clever writing, the blunt modernity in speech and thought that works so well, there’s that pronoun. The “he.” Apparently, it’s not universally loved — but I don’t entirely understand why. You see, Mantel reserves that “he,” at least in all scenes Cromwell appears in (which is damn near all of them) exclusively for Cromwell. It’s dislocating at first to have that pronoun pop up without antecedent in a chunk of dialogue — but eventually it becomes natural, and then a very powerful rhetorical manoeuver. Often, style is showy, even good style, and Mantel is often enough showy. But this single quiet tweak to usage works better than any other stylistic gambit she sets out. Very simple, effective, impressive.

Henry Holt 10.13.09

December 03, 2009, 2:03pm   Comments