Saturday, June 23, 2007

Sovereign and Wymondham

I’ve been reading an historical novel that the book editor at the Otago Daily Times gave me as light reading. It was one of several books she gave us before we left NZ. The title is Sovereign, and it’s the third in a series of detective-style stories set in the reign of Henry VIII. It’s some 600 pages long, and should have been about 300 at the outside. There is an awful lot of padding in it, in my opinion, and things that the reader has picked up at least twice are repeated yet again, and again. Some of the dialogue takes the story nowhere; it just seems to be filler. I’m only finishing it because I am interested in the whodunit side of the story, but if it hadn’t been for that I would have put it down ages ago.
It does a pretty good job of giving an idea of what life is like in the days of that particular King, and the destruction he wreaked on society through claiming the headship of the church in England in defiance of the Pope. The people come across as people like us, doing things like us and in general being just as capable as us in their various skills. Words are thrown into the text to give it colour, words that aren’t any longer used, but can still get their meaning across to us. But I find the use of modern swearwords a bit anachronistic. It’s highly possible people used them in those days, but somehow they don’t ring true. Shakespeare included swear words in his play, yet these don’t appear in the book.
The story is by C J Sansom, and obviously he’s a fairly popular writer. I must be just too fussy. However, the interesting link between the story and what we’re doing at the moment – living in Norfolk – is that when we went to Wymondham today (pronounced Wind’am, for those who don’t know it) we saw Wymondham Abbey, and also saw the results of King Henry’s desecration of the monasteries and such. The Abbey and its connected buildings (including a monastery) once covered about four times its present area. All that’s left is the Church building itself and a forlorn arch that goes nowhere. The Abbey is still substantial, and isn’t by any means a ruin, but the glory of the original buildings has been decimated. (Or perhaps that should be ‘quartered.’)
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