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Fludd (2015)

Fludd (2015)

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3.44 of 5 Votes: 5
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0007172893 (ISBN13: 9780007172894)
fourth estate

About book Fludd (2015)

This book was published in 1989 long before Mantel became a household name (in households that pay attention to the winners of the Booker Prize), indeed when I first read it she was relatively unknown. It was the second book of hers that I read, the first being Beyond Black another magic realism novel. And as a result of reading both I went on to buy every book of hers I could find.There have been a flurry of reviews on Goodreads and Amazon recently by people who have read Wolf Hall and want to read more. Some were disappointed. This book is an altogether different beast to her prize-winning tomes - short (less than 200 pages), set in the 1950s and of course magic realism. I loved it the first time I read it, but found so much more to enjoy on second reading. I was perhaps more attuned to the way the magic in the book builds, knowing more now about the lost art of alchemy that underpins this book. As the opening note explains the real Fludd (1574-1637) was a physician, scholar and alchemist. In alchemy, everything has a literal and factual description, and in addition a description that is symbolic and fantastical. The book may appear lightweight (literally and in terms of content), but that is deceiving. Look closer and reflect (as you are reading and afterwards), there is more here than meets the eye. The book (like some other magic realism novels) has been compared to a fairytale, which can be considered both a criticism or praise depending on your point of view. For me fairytales are about eternal patterns and truths. The theme of transformation is central to them, as it is in this book. Fludd transforms and redeems the people he comes in contact with.The 1950's village setting is bleak, but Mantel brings a humour to the book, which is both wicked and humane. Open the book at nearly any page and you will find a gem of description:The women liked to stand on their doorsteps. This standing was what they did. Recreational pursuits were for men : football, billiards, keeping hens. Treats were doled out to men, as a reward for good behaviour: cigarettes, beer at the Arundel Arms. Religion and the public library, were for children. Women only talked.She is laughing, but she is not laughing at her characters. This is a book about happy endings.As I have observed in reviews of magic realism books (and indeed of my own) some readers are frustrated by the lack of clear answers. Who or what is Fludd? Mantel plays with us - hinting that he might be the devil: He as a handy type with tongs, Father Angwin could tell or maybe the local tobacconist is as Father Angwin believes. What exactly did happen to Sister Perpetua as she pursued the fleeing nun? Maybe these readers should heed to the message of this book - there is more than one way of looking at the world.This review was first published on and is part of my magic realism challenge in which I read and review 50 magic realism books in one year.

One of Hilary Mantel’s early novels; this is quite an oddity and if you have a working knowledge of the Catholic Church, very funny. It is set in northern England in the mid 1950s in a mill town on the edge of a bleak moor. The Catholicism is pre Vatican 2 and very Latin; heavily laced with superstition. The novel revolves around the parish priest Father Angwin who long ago lost his faith and believes only in the devil and tradition. He is plagued by the Bishop who is modern and trying to bring the Church into the twentieth century. There is also a convent with nuns who teach in the local school. The characterisation is strong and even the minor players are well drawn with substance, and it is the very human frailty of the characters that make them likeable. The nuns are making a tapestry of the ten plagues of Egypt; “Now we are up to boils”. This is a very competent dissection of superstition, but it is done with warmth and without cruelty; and there are some great quotes:“The Protestants were damned, of course, by reason of this culpable ignorance. They would roast in hell. A span of seventy years, to ride bicycles in the steep streets, to get married, to eat bread and dripping: then bronchitis, pneumonia, a broken hip: then the minister calls, and the florist does a wreath: then devils will tear their flesh with pincers. It is a most neighbourly thought.”The centre of the story is Fludd, the new curate of the parish; he is an enigma and his effect on those around him; take for instance the priest’s housekeeper Miss Dempsey: ''Deep within her, behind her cardigan and her blouse and her petticoat trimmed with scratchy nylon lace, behind her interlock vest and freckled skin, Miss Dempsey sensed a slow movement, a tiny spiral shift of matter, as if, at the very moment the curate spoke, a change had occurred: a change so minute as to baffle description, but rippling out, in its effect, to infinity.'' He has a similar effect on a young Irish nun, Sister Philomena, who has had to leave Ireland for pretending her dermatitis was stigmata. The real question is who is Fludd? Is he an angel, or is he, more pertinently, the devil. He certainly is not a priest! The combination of humour and symbolism is a delight; it does help if you have some basic knowledge of the Catholic Church, but the questions are eternal ones. Sadistic nuns, an atheist priest, the saga of the buried statues (and their resurrection), devout (but ignorant) parishioners, a tobacconist who may also be the devil and the inscrutable Fludd. There is a great deal going on and it is fun and life affirming and about finding oneself.

Do You like book Fludd (2015)?

Whilst this is not quite as compelling as Wolf Hall, I did enjoy this book about a not quite genuine Catholic Priest. Like all of Mantel's books, the writing is deft and witty, with wonderful characterisation - I loved Sister Philomena, the feisty, unorthodox nun, the nosy housekeeper Agnes Dempsey and the embittered atheist, Father Angwin. It's hard to tell whether the supernatural elements in the story are actually genuinely supernatural or quite ordinary events. The setting (which I know well, being a Derbyshire girl) is very true to life and adds a further layer to the story for me. There is some wonderfully barren moorland countryside up Glossop way - a setting which can appear very supernatural, despite being quite ordinary. It is a fantastic setting for this story. The devilish (?) Father Fludd is a very human Satan (if he is satan indeed) and there is something touchingly vulnerable about him and his seduction of Sister Philly. This is a very satisfying read from a fabulous author - definitely recommend it.
—Grace Harwood

Hilary Mantel writes with the light irony of Anita Brookner and the northern bathos of Alan Bennett:“Or perhaps, she thought, it is some poor sinner with blood on his hands ridden over the wild moors to ask for absolution. But glancing at the clock she knew this could not be so for the last bus from Glossop had passed through twenty minutes earlier.”“'No time for tea,' said the Bishop, 'I've come to talk to you on the subject of uniting all right-thinking people in the family of God.'”Mantel rejects modern conventions and inserts a Victorian-style omniscient narrator into the proceedings, telling not showing, dipping into each of her characters' heads. She even reports that something horrible will happen on the nearby moors in the future (we are in 1956), outside of the purlieus of the book: she is playing God. The old-fashioned style suits the antediluvian setting of the town of Fetherhoughton (somewhere near Macclesfield), which sounds very familiar: “They were not townspeople; they had none of their curiosity, they were not country people, [they] kept their eyes averted from the moors with a singular effort of will.”There's a bit of the Father Teds about this (although the book was published in 1989, when Ted, Dougal, Jack and Mrs Doyle were a glint in Glinner's eye): the martyred housekeeper, he petty jealousies and rivalries, the rude, drunken, atheist priest, who nevertheless believes in the devil, who is, according to him, the local tobacconist. The novel shows the dark side of the Catholic church, not the paedophile priests, or abused single mothers in laundries, or raped teenagers denied abortions, or the spread of AIDS in Africa, but the sheer futility of the idea of good and evil when every one, every thing is somewhere between these two states. In the mid-fifties, in a small, pious, uneducated town, this concept would have been revolutionary.Like Mr Pye, another mysterious incomer arriving to disrupt things, the titular Fludd is part angel, part devil, a decent demon. What if Lucifer is a good guy, posits Mantel, and what If things were not binary? Fludd commits a sin in the eyes of the church by persuading a nun to go on the run with him and then abandoning her after “ruining” her, but also encouraging her into a life of love and liberty, to inspire her to taste food and freedom.Finally, some of Mantel's lovely descriptions:“Her face full of complaints.”“The summer, a thick grey blanket, had pinned itself to the windows.”“In recent years, her face had fallen softly, like a piece of light cotton folding into a box.”
—Rachel Stevenson

Reasons to read Fludd:1. The narrator is just fantastic. She (no gender is indicated, so in the spirit of misandry I'm assuming she's female) is straight-faced but very funny; she is wearily contemptuous of the villagers of Fetherhoughton, but also understands them so thoroughly that it's clear there's not as much distance between them as she might like. Consider this description: For shoes, the women wore bedroom slippers in the form of bootees, with a big zip up the middle. When they went outdoors they put on a stouter version of the same shoe in a tough dark brown suede. Their legs rose like tubes, only an inch or so exposed beneath the hems of their big winter coats.The younger women had different bedroom slippers, which relatives gave each other every Christmas. They were dish-shaped, each with a thick ruff or pink or blue nylon fur. At first the soles of these slippers were as hard and shiny as glass; it took a week of wear before they bent and gave under the foot, and during that week their wearer would often look down on them with pride, with a guilty sense of luxury, as the nylon fur tickled her ankles. But gradually the fur lost its bounce and spring, and crumbs fell into it; by February its fibres were matted together with chip fat.In two paragraphs, Mantel has given us a complete sense of an entire community. And the pacing of the sentences! Perfection. Unlike many of her Literary fellows, Mantel never writes to show off. She doesn't have to.2. The plot is delightful, which is rare in Mantel. Fetherhoughton may be bleak, and the majority of its inhabitants dreary, but after the arrival of the mysterious curate Fludd things begin to happen that are, in a restrained, credible way, magical.3. The characters! Father Angwin, Miss Dempsey, Sister Philomena, Mother Perpetua--Mantel renders them beautifully. They are as real on the page as breathing.IN CONCLUSION: everyone ought to read Fludd.
—Kate Sylvan

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