Archive for June, 2012

Ah, Doctor Jekyll I presume!

This is one of my favourite concepts for a book and, like Dracula and Frankenstein, such a hugely evocative character and concept. It is intuitively resonant that lurking within all of us, behind the mask and veneer of social mores and decency, is a rampaging, amoral, bestial, primitive, reptilian beast. It is The Incredible Hulk, the werewolf; in Freudian terms, the conflict between the Id and the Superego; in Jungian terms – which is my favoured approach here – it is the Persona and the true identity.

What’s the critical difference between Freudian and Jungian approaches to Jekyll and Hyde? I’m no psychologist and my understanding is self-confessedly limited. For me, Freud would view Hyde as regressive, a retreat into the Id, a return to a childlike, animalistic slavery to impulse without the higher functions of the Superego. Jekyll would therefore be Freud’s tortured hero. For Jung, in my opinion, the roles would be reversed. Jekyll would be seen as the Persona, the shallow and brittle mask that has been selected to be presented to the world; it is an arbitrary selection, possibly imposed by external forces such as a father’s ambition. Hyde, therefore, would be viewed as the true and natural state of the man released through a – here pharmacologically induced – enantiodromia. Jung, therefore, may view Hyde as the tragic hero.

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Moving to the book. Let’s be honest, the writing style is not one that sits naturally with me. The somewhat clinical nature of the narration prevents Stevenson from developing his descriptions – with one or two notable exceptions – and the whole novella comes in at only 50 or so pages and no more than a couple of hours reading time.

Perhaps it says more about me than anything else but I would love to have seen more of the horrors of Hyde’s excursions. Films dwell on it – usually going to excess in the other direction – but Stevenson is almost silent. When we do see Hyde, his interactions still strike me as rather urbane. The epitome of evil – a word which I balk against by nature – seems incongruous when negotiating an out of court settlement for compensation!

Somewhere in my mind I recall hearing that Stevenson excised descriptions of Hyde’s excesses for fear of upsetting his wife – was he even married? – but I so wish he’d left them in!

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Jazz is cool.

It’s undeniable; it’s super cool. As a genre of music, it lurks in the back of the iPod in a smoke filled subterranean playlist. Jazz does not wear sunglasses; jazz is born with dark tinted irises. In a politically correct world, jazz sensuously drinks and smokes itself to a hospital bed where it still looks cool. And probably seduces the nurse, the consultant and the undertaker. Jazz is smart and intellectual and doesn’t care; and it is dirty and filthy and doesn’t care.

It’s also a genre of music I know little about.

Which made Moon Over Soho, Ben Aaronovitch’s second novel revolving around Peter Grant, the Met’s latest magic police officer, slightly intimidating. Because there’s an awful lot of jazz in it.

It’s not much of a problem, to be fair. I just wish I knew the artists and songs he mentions.

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Two plots interweave through the book.

Firstly, a series of jazz musicians die of apparently natural causes but, because of lingering vestigia – a sort of magical afterglow – Peter is called in. Secondly, a growing number of men die from exsanguination. Exsanguination following the biting off of their manhoods. Collective crossing of male legs. Even more disturbing is that the teeth which did the biting were not the usual horizontal facial kind: instead they were horizontally oriented and vaginally located. Every man’s Freudian nightmare!

Entwined with these plots is: a search for a mysterious and dangerous black magician; a budding love interest for Peter; more insights into Peter’s boss – the enigmatic Nightingale – and his background; and the aftermath of the previous book.

Aaronovitch gives himself a lot to do and – to be honest – it makes the book less satisfying than expected. There’s no real resolution: the black magician is encountered but not apprehended; the pale lady – she with the toothed front bottom – is rather speedily dispatched. The book feels like a bridge, converting the first book into a series by putting together the threads that will be developed later. It felt to me as if Aaronovitch had intended a series but the editors had doubts over its success and made him make edits so that it could have been a one-off. This book seems to be putting into place the pieces to set up the future books.

Don’t get me wrong though, this isn’t a bad book! It’s a solid, paced read. It’s not the most intellectually challenging or linguistically sophisticated but it’s a good read. Two things impressed me most:

– Nightingale remains successfully impressive: hints of his life are given which are sufficient to make him formidable – his fireball destroyed a Tiger Tank in World War 2 and after the war he returned to his old school to carve his fallen schoolmates names into the wall; but controlled enough to remain mysterious.

– Lesley, his comrade, colleague and possible love interest from the first book who became temporarily possessed, returns. I had been expecting her return, but not that the facial injuries inflicted in the previous book could not be healed. I had expected her to have been back to normal with the Harry Potter style explanation: “oh it’s magic so that explains it all”. Instead her injuries remain so severe that she is unable even to speak at the start of the book; wears a face mask up until the final pages; and Peter is horrified when he finally sees it. There was a certain integrity and honesty in keeping her injuries extreme. And, from the final pages of the novel, it is clear she will become a very significant character in future novels.

A MASSIVE congratulations to Patrick Ness for the historic achievement of winning the Carnegie two years running AND winning both the Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Prizes simultaneously.

A Monster Calls is a truly exceptional book and a mighty winner! It is one of those books that EVERYONE should read! The story is moving, evocative, primal, mythic and personal; the language is beautiful and elegant and so economical; the illustrations are breath taking. Truly, genuinely inspiring!20120615-061732.jpg

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Hamlet, perhaps the most famous and most argued over play by Shakespeare, was written between the years 1599 and 1601 as Elizabeth I was reaching the end of her reign. The play features two of the most famous women in Shakespeare: Ophelia and Gertrude and Hamlet’s relationships with these women account for a large number of the three hours or so stage business that the play comprises. The presentation of these women constantly shifts as the play develops and according to the contexts in which they are shown: women are frequently reviled by Hamlet who seems repulsed by their sexuality; yet there are also moments of genuine tenderness; women are regularly accused of deceit, yet are also frequently the victims of deception perpetrated by men; women are controlled and dominated by the men in a clearly patriarchal society; despite this, however, they consistently show moments of genuine statesmanship and real competence.

The two women are at polar extremes of experience. Gertrude, as the Queen of Denmark, possesses the greatest status it is possible to achieve, she is mature and experienced, her son Hamlet being 30 years old. Ophelia, on the other hand, as the young daughter of a courtier, has a very lowly status in Danish society and has no opportunity to exercise any independence.

Hamlet’s so-called “sex nausea” is given full and robust voice in his first soliloquy in Act I scene ii. He declares to the audience that “Frailty – thy name is woman” and abhors his mother for her re-marriage when Hamlet senior is “but two months dead… a little month”. Within this soliloquy, Hamlet compares his mother to a

“beast that wants discourse of reason”

and the sixteenth century audience would have been aware that animals in drama were often associated with lechery and lust. When combined with the sensual image of Gertrude who

“would hang on [the old King Hamlet] /As if increase of appetite had grown / By what it fed on”

it becomes clear that Hamlet is implying that the hasty remarriage was caused by his own mother’s sexual urgings. The fractured grammar and frequent caesurae in this soliloquy reveal the almost incoherent disgust that this breeds in Hamlet.

Nor does this disgust end here. In Act III scene iv, the closet scene, Hamlet returns to the same question and dwells on the same concerns. He initially refuses to accept the fact of his mother’s sexuality because, at her age “the heyday in the blood is tame” and later he accuses her of a “mutine in matron’s bones”. This continues through the scene, culminating in the disturbing image of Gertrude choosing

“to live
In the rank sweat of an enseamed bed,
Stew’d in corruption, honeying and making love
Over the nasty sty”

which continues the animal imagery of the earlier scene. This central scene in the play, therefore, revolves around the presentation of women as debauched, bestial sexual creatures. Hamlet’s language in this scene is crude and violent and one of the final images in the scene is of an

“ulcerous place,
[Where] rank corruption, mining all within,
Infects unseen”.

This image of corruption and disease, recalls Hamlet’s previous utterance that there is “something rotten” in the state of Denmark, along with a wealth of others. This “something rotten” in Act III scene iv becomes identified with the rotten, unhealthy and diseased sexuality of Hamlet’s own mother and, by extension all women.

Gertrude is not the only woman to receive this treatment from Hamlet. In Act III scene i Ophelia is told by Hamlet that

“the power of beauty will sooner
transform honesty from what it is to a bawd”

and that

“wise men know well enough what monsters you make of them”

. This reference to the myth of the cuckold reveals Hamlet’s apparent certainty that no woman would fail to deceive and be unfaithful to their husbands. There is a different quality to the language here, however. The language seems almost proverbial or academic and lacks the bitterness clearly seen in the closet scene. Even the famous “Get thee to a nunnery” is more than capable of being interpreted as Hamlet giving very sound advice to Ophelia about the physical and moral danger that Elsinore poses to her.

Indeed, it is perhaps with Ophelia that we see Hamlet’s moments of tenderness towards women. In Act 2 scene i, Ophelia relates an incident between herself and Hamlet which had left her “affrighted”. She recalls that Hamlet entered her closet, and

“falls to such perusal of my face
As he would draw it”.

Whilst this incident clearly and understandably distressed Ophelia, and whilst her father interprets it as the first sign of Hamlet’s madness, this scene represents one of the most touching in the play. This shows, through Ophelia’s recollection, Hamlet’s farewell to her, having decided to “wipe away all trivial fond records” from his life in order to pursue the ghost’s commandment to “remember me”. The ferocity and length of time with which Hamlet gripped Ophelia, his unusual silence throughout the meeting, the final turning of his eyes to watch her as he left the room are all telling and moving signs of the love that he felt for her and his regret at having no more opportunity to pursue it.

The extent of Hamlet’s feelings for Ophelia are never made clear, however, and Hamlet is contradictory in his attitude to her. He alternates in Act III between “I did love thee once” and “I loved you not” within four lines; it is clear that he has made “tenders” of her affection, yet he claims also that “I never gave you aught”. Prior to the start of the Mousetrap, Hamlet appears to deliberately attempt to humiliate Ophelia in public by offering to “lay in your lap”, referring to “country matters” and dwelling on the euphemistic meanings of “nothing”.
Ophelia’s death, too, forms an emotional core within the play. Gertrude’s description in Act IV scene vii of the willow’s “hoar leaves in the glassy stream” from which Ophelia fell and her clothes which “spread wide and mermaid like awhile they bore her up” is undeniably moving. The use of slightly archaic and lyrical words such as “hoar” and the peaceful rhythm of her verse powerfully evoke the tenderness with which the audience views Ophelia and contrasts with the way both Hamlet and Polonius speak to, manipulate and use her throughout the play. This beautiful tribute to Ophelia undermines the vulgarity with which she had at times been treated by other characters, fittingly echoed in the

“long purples that liberal shepherds give a grosser name”

in Gertrude’s litany of flowers and reveals Shakespeare’s own presentation of her. It is no wonder that Ophelia’s death has inspired a range of iconic art.

It is typical of the attitude other characters in the play have of women that Ophelia’s burial becomes the scene of an extraordinary contest of protestations of love for her between Laertes who offers to be buried with her and Hamlet who offers

“Woo’t weep? woo’t fight? woo’t fast? woo’t tear thyself?
Woo’t drink up eisel? eat a crocodile?
I’ll do’t.”

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The tenderness of Ophelia’s death, the pain of her fractured mind are suborned to two competing male egos challenging each other to declare their love for Ophelia in the most bombastic manner imaginable and physically squabbling in her very grave. Shakespeare pits these two men as nemeses from the beginning of the play: Claudius ignores his son-in-law by speaking to Laertes first, speaking his name repeatedly in Act I scene ii; Laertes is permitted to return to Paris, Hamlet is denied permission to return to Wittenburg; both men have lost a father to violence; both men seek revenge for that father’s death. Shakespeare clearly shows in this scene how male impulses and male competitiveness hijack Ophelia’s last moments and trample on her. This reflects in miniature the overpowering masculinity and patriarchy of the Elsinor court in which nothing feminine is permitted to thrive.

Hamlet’s most damning criticism of women in this scene is the accusation that

“God has given you one face, and you make yourselves another”

, a theme that returns in Act V scene i where Hamlet speaks to the skull of Yorick and tells it to

“get you to my lady’s chamber, and tell her, let her paint an inch thick”

. His inability to trust women, his belief in the gulf between their apparent facade and the real person beneath the mask finds a telling image in these references to make up. This is, of course, doubly ironic because no women were permitted on the stage in 1600 so both Ophelia and Gertrude were played by male actors on whom the make up was no doubt applied an “inch thick”.

This, however, is not a concern which is not directed solely at women: Hamlet suspects his uncle of being a “smiling, damned villain” and declares that “one may smile, and smile, and be a villain”. The courtly and sophisticated “smile” which acts as a mask behind which Claudius’ villainy hides is a far more invidious and sinister image than the women’s make up. Within the play, Shakespeare at no point shows a woman being deceitful: Polonius concocts a plan to “loose” his daughter on Hamlet; Claudius spies on them with him; Polonius decides, fatally, that “behind the arras I’ll convey myself”; Hamlet declares that during the Mousetrap, “mine eyes will rivet to his face” as he joins in the routine of espionage amongst the men. Whilst the language of the character Hamlet berates women for being, literally, two-faced, the play Hamlet portrays men acting in that manner and using women for their own ends.

The first time that the audience sees a female character in the play Hamlet is in the very public Act 1 Scene 2 and for a very long stretch of time, Gertrude is silent. This scene introduces the royal family to the audience and Claudius occupies centre stage throughout. Although he constantly uses the first person plural in his address, such as “it befitted us to bear our hearts in grief”, it is clear that this is a royal “we” and he is clearly referring only to himself, as when he refers to Gertrude as “our sometime sister”. He does, nominally, accord power to Gertrude in the long verse address to the Court, referring to her as his “imperial jointress”, but her very silence reveals the hollowness of that title, as does the ominous phrase “Taken to wife”. Whilst the play is silent about the motives behind the marriage, it is certainly credible that Gertrude was an unwilling partner whom Claudius seduced or pressurised into marriage in order to consolidate his own claim to the throne and pre-empt any criticism from Hamlet.

It is telling that the first time at which Gertrude feels able to speak is in domestic matters: her son’s intention to return to Wittenburg. She chooses to speak as Hamlet tells Claudius that he is “too much i’the sun”, echoing Claudius’ calling him “my cousin Hamlet and my son”. Whilst his response is punning and riddling, he is implicitly spurning Claudius’ publically offered and politically motivated allegiance. The relationship between Claudius and Hamlet could only be incredibly difficult: any step-parent relationship is challenging, exacerbated as Hamlet may have had “ambition” to succeed his father but Claudius had

“popped in between th’election and my hopes”

and further complicated by Hamlet’s apparent hatred of Claudius referring to him as a “satyr” even before knowing of the murder. For this difficult relationship to have fallen apart quickly and before the entire Court as appears likely at this moment would have been catastrophic and it is Gertrude who steps in and consoles her son. Hamlet makes it clear that in remaining in Elsinor, he

“shall in all my best obey you, madam”

and not Claudius. Similarly, Gertrude gently cajoles Polonius to keep to the point, appears to correct Claudius as to Rosencrantz and Guildernstern’s names and listens intently and sensitively to her son in the closet scene. Despite the misogynistic rhetoric that fills the play, therefore, what we see of Gertrude is neither a sexually aggressive predator nor a deceiver but a mature and competent stateswoman who is frequently seen treading a difficult path in a very surefooted way.

Whilst there is an argument that Gertrude is being manipulated and controlled by Claudius, it is patent that Ophelia is in thrall to her family. Polonius when discussing her relationship with Hamlet even states that

“You do not understand yourself so clearly / As it behoves my daughter and your honour”

. It is crucial that he demands that Ophelia act appropriately as his daughter before considering her own feelings. This was typical of the patriarchal society of the sixteenth century in which Shakespeare was living and writing. Daughters were treated almost as a commodity by their fathers and it was a motif that recurred throughout his career: Juliet in Romeo and Juliet, Hero in Much Ado About Nothing and Desdemona in Othello are all rounded on by their fathers for refusing to marry the man their father picked, appearing to sully the family name or marrying an inappropriate suitor. This commodification of daughters recurs again in Act I scene iii as Polonius demands that Ophelia

“tender herself more dearly”

, clearly adopting a semantic field drawn from the mercantile world. It is noticeable that at no point does Ophelia rebel against or reject her father’s instruction, instead obeying it to the letter she does indeed reject Hamlet’s advances.

It is vital in the play Hamlet not to be dragged into the characters’ own views of women. There is a vast gulf between the misogynistic and patriarchal views expressed by Claudius, Polonius and Hamlet and the competent, tender and sensitive portrayals of both Ophelia and Gertrude. Neither of them are simply the weak victims that men treat them as, nor are they the lascivious beasts that they are described to be. Instead, Gertrude represents a competence and calmness throughout the play whilst Ophelia becomes an icon of the effects of the repressive and patriarchal society in both Elsinore and England at the time in which Shakespeare was writing. Both women are destroyed by that society and their presentation in the play is extraordinarily sympathetic.

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I was lent this by a student at school – ironically as one of the main features in the book is that Charlie is lent books by his English teacher! It took a while to get around to actually opening it, until I ran out of time and had to read it before the kid left school! I think the word “wallflower” in the title put me off! Once I did start though, I did have to concede that it is an extremely good book!

The book is an epistolary novel and we are never told to whom Charlie, a rather disturbed young man at high school, is writing. I suppose that this anonymity is designed to encourage the reader to feel that the letters are written to them directly. The story, therefore, needs an authentic and engaging voice to succeed, and I felt it did achieve this. It is clear throughout that the narrator is not a traditional school child: there are elements that feel autistic, elements that feel almost schizophrenic in his character; he is under the care of a psychiatrist throughout the novel and has difficulty engaging in his own life. He seems to prefer being the “wallflower” of the title: observing life around him, rather than taking part.

The novel does have a rather sixties / seventies feel to it, possibly because some elements of the story are meant to be autobiographical. The drug taking, LSD and cannabis, did feel out of date and, despite these nebulous sixties feelings, i felt that there were strangely few references to specific culture or contemporary life to fix it in time. I suppose this may be a deliberate choice to create a “timeless”, “classic” feel but it did jar a little.

There is a twist at the end of the novel, which does lend some explanation for Charlie’s condition, and it has to be said that this actually took me by surprise! Without wanting to sound big-headed, but as an English teacher and avid reader, that doesn’t happen often!!

And of course there is the film coming out this year too, apparently.

So these are the ideas which I have been discussing with my class.

Tsotsi is set in 1956, give or take, in Sophiatown, a township on the outskirts of Johannesburg, South Africa. It was written by Fugard in the early months of 1960 after Sophiatown had been destroyed by the white community in Johannesburg and, therefore, there is an inevitability to its destruction. This inevitability is expressed in the gangs of slum clearance workers and in the language where, for example, the remnants of broken houses are described as Being like”skulls”.

Our main character is Tsotsi, the eponymous (anti) hero. He is “the one they called Tsotsi” which makes it clear that it is a title or label rather than a name; and a label that means simply “thug” when translated. It is not a name given to him with love by his mother, it does not connect him to his father’s family, tribe or ancestors – a fact which may have more import to an African audience than a western one. Clearly, there is distance and a disconnection between Tsotsi and his family simply from the fact of his name. This in itself starts to suggest a Freudian interpretation.

The character is also seen to be damaged. He has no recollection of his past and “didn’t know the answers” to any questions regarding his past. He seems, therefore, to be adrift in a constant moment with no history or family to ground him or put his actions into perspective.

Even more profound, he is a man without a sense of identity. Fugard tells us that, when Tsotsi looks into a mirror, he had “not been able to put together the eyes and the nose, and the mouth and the chin and make a man with meaning”. Fugard says that Tsotsi’s own features were “as meaningless as a handful of stones”.

Rather than creating a sense of identity from his own history, Tsotsi seems to create identity in others’ reaction to him. We are shown “the big men, the brave ones stood down because of him, the fear was of him, the hate was for him” and “He knew he was“. In the language of Transactional Analysis, what we see is perhaps a character craving strokes to prove his actual existence – because of the disconnection with his family – but only able to generate extreme negative strokes through violence, murder and rape.

The reader, along with the character Boston, are encouraged to see Tsotsi as lacking empathy or, in Boston’s words “decency”. He is accused of not feeling for anyone and when he attempts to rape the woman who thrusts the baby into his hands, he see her only as mouth, legs, eyes, her “neck with the pulse of an artery”, breasts and chest. A collection of body parts, a collage and therefore capable of being violated without guilt.

So, summing up, we are firstly given a character with extreme anti-social and perhaps sociopathic tendencies; a desperate and possibly manic need for attention, recognition and ‘strokes’; suffering from a dislocation from family.

At the heart of the book, there is a section where Tsotsi remembers his past. An apparently loving mother is ripped from her bed by police in a Pass raid – abusing the system of Passes which limit and control the blacks’ rights to be in any certain area. His father’s long awaited return becomes a tragedy as he discovers the empty house and wails his horror and disappointment and in his rage kicks the pregnant dog. In perhaps the central image of the book the bitch with its broken back then crawls outside to where Tsotsi (who has now recalled his name, David Madoni) has hidden and miscarries, “giving birth to death” as Fugard describes the image in his notes.

I wonder about the extent to which the memory is reliable or wish fulfilment. The mother is very warmly described: “warm” and “safe” are the words which characterise her. And it must be more comforting for someone motherless to imagine her taken from him than having abandoned him.

Anyway, the memory appears to be traumatic.

A Freudian analysis – based on the division of the mind into the conscious and the unconscious – could explain, or more properly provide a vocabulary with which to explain this. The traumatic event was too difficult for David’s young mind to deal with. The event is too visceral, too painful, effectively orphaning him. Incapable of integrating it into his conscious, the memory is repressed into his unconscious.

It is interesting – to me at least – to note that Tsotsi appears to repress the memory through conscious effort. He is shown deliberately fighting his memory, daily honing his knife as a fetish to keep the memory and his trauma at bay.

Because the repressed trauma is not integrated into the conscious, just as an untreated physical injury will fester and become infected, the repressed psychological injury could be seen as giving rise to the sociopathic lack of empathy with which he starts the novel.

Once the trauma is recalled, Tsotsi changes his behaviour: he disbands his gang; he sees Die Aap as a person rather than as a useful tool because of his immense strength; he attempts to reconcile with Boston who he had previously assaulted and kicked so hard he had nearly killed him; he visits a church; he finally sacrifices himself to attempt to save the baby (which had triggered the memories) from the slum clearance crews. It is left ambiguous at the end as to whether his gesture was futile or not: Tsotsi is killed when the wall falls upon him, dying with a very enigmatic “smile”, but the baby itself is not even mentioned. It, too may have died; or may have been rescued earlier by another character, possibly Miriam who Tsotsi forces to feed the baby.

I am personally always a tad hesitant about applying Freudian language to fictional characters but the arc of this book seems to be so apt for it.

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There are days, those dark days, when you sit down and realise that you’ve had the same meal for three days …

I’ve just sat down and realised that the last three books I’ve read are all historical fiction.

Bring Up The Bodies by Mantel, Pure by Andrew Miller and now Sovereign by C. J. Sansom.

Sovereign is the third of the Matthew Shardlake novels and certainly stronger than its predecessor Dark Fire. Dark Fire revolved around the – frankly preposterous – notion of a vastly powerful flammable chemical being unearthed by Henry VIII’s agents. Here, the plot is more human and credible.

Well, “plot” isn’t quite right: plots, plural. There is the original plot device of Shardlake being dispatched to York to meet up with the King’s Northern Progress in order to hear legal cases; and, almost incidentally, to ensure that a captured traitor, Sir Edward Broderick, remains alive until he can be transported to London to be tortured. The moral dilemma of ensuring a man remains alive solely to face torture and execution are raised through the book but not exactly delved into.

Once placed in York, Shardlake is in the vicinity when a glazer is killed. A box of suspicious papers are found in the dead man’s house. The papers are glimpsed by Shardlake before he is knocked unconscious by an unseen assailant who flees with the papers.

In the words of Lemony Snicket, a series of unfortunate and deadly and – increasingly bizarre – incidents befall Shardlake as he becomes the victim of repeated assassination attempts. These may or may not be connected with the papers in the box.

Meanwhile Jack Barak – the Watson to Shardlake’s Holmes – starts a dalliance with a girl in the Queen’s employ; Shardlake befriends a local Yorkist lawyer; the Queen becomes embroiled with gossip; plots multiply and intertwine and writhe around each other. And at the heart of the novel is the King, the Sovereign of the title, the focus of the rebellion.

It is the massive mouldering image of the king that dominates the novel’s imagination despite the scarcity of pages devoted to him. We only see him once as the Progress reaches York’s Council at Fulford Cross. And even then we see only fragments due to Shardlake’s grovelling before him. We hear his voice humiliating the lawyer, we see his height and bulk; we smell the rot of his ulcerating rotting fetid noisome sore on his leg. The image of him rutting upon the child-like Queen Catherine is mentioned more than once. The stench of the King’s injury is recalled when trying to identify a poison later.

And the prophecy of the downfall of Henry VIII describes him as the Mouldwarp.

What has always concerned me with historical fiction is still here. I like my history to be accurate: I am nervous about looking an arse by trotting out some fiction as historical fact at a quiz someday!! And I like my fiction to be real – to give the sense of a real place and real characters living and loving and breathing through it. With the exception of Henry’s leg, I didn’t feel the reality of the world despite the small details mentioned such as Shardlake’s steel mirror and the rather laboured use of the word “shit”.

I did, however, feel quite a shock on the plot twist when Shardlake returned to London and I was quite surprised by how concerned I felt for him.