Showing posts from March, 2020

The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel

Last fall, the Guardian embarked on a gargantuan project to catalogue the best culture produced in the twenty-first century so far. Categories ranged far and wide—architecture, dance, art exhibits—but of course they also included big ticket items like film, TV, and books. It's in the nature of such list-making that one always finds a great deal to disagree with and be surprised by, but of one thing I was absolutely sure. Long before the relevant list was published, I had no doubt that the title of best book of the twenty-first century would go to Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall. I even found myself wondering whether the project's twenty-year span—as opposed to all the best-of-the-decade lists that were cropping up at the same time—was decided on purely because Wolf Hall, published in 2009, would not otherwise have been eligible.

I felt this certainty not because Wolf Hall is such a good book (though it is), but because it—and its sequel, 2012's Bring Up the Bodies, and now t…

The Testaments by Margaret Atwood

Why write a sequel to The Handmaid's Tale?  Why write one in 2019?  In the acknowledgements section of The Testaments, Margaret Atwood writes that, since the publication of Handmaid in 1985, she has received multiple queries about the fate of its characters and world.  Why choose to answer (some) of those questions now, thirty-five years after the original novel's publication?  A cynic would say that this is a cash-in, a reflection of how the original novel has dominated the zeitgeist since the premiere of the television series based on it in 2017.  An idealist would say that this is just the right moment, when far-right, fascist movements all over the world are gaining prominence, many of them with an essentialist, instrumentalized view of women's role in society at the very core of their ideology.  The truth is probably somewhere in the middle, but that just brings us to the more important question: what does The Testaments accomplish?  What does it tell us that The Hand…