TOB 2010: Wolf Hall v. Fever Chart

I have not read Fever Chart, so I can only rely on the reviews of others and this excerpt, posted at McSweeney’s.

The beginning of Fever Chart seems a little fantastical. The owner of Section 8 (low-income, government-subsidized) housing lectures a new renter, our protagonist, on the rudeness of committing a messy suicide.

In the kitchen of my new apartment, Mr Kline and I sat on two milk crates on either side of a paint-spattered sawhorse. I gave him a money order for $265. He handed me a house key and a mailbox key and a grody, dog-eared paperback entitled Shuffle, whose cover was adorned with a photo of a Zippo-brandishing monk sitting Indian-style next to a can of gasoline. “Son,” said Mr Kline, “I’ve quartered a number of you boll dischargees before now and I have come to learn that they will occasionally, and with no alert, do themselves in, often without due regard for their surroundings.”

He goes so far as to describe in detail tidy methods, ostensibly so Jerome, if he decides to off himself, will choose one of those methods rather than a gun stuck in the mouth. It is kind of funny, but it read to me more like a funny story than a story that is funny. I can only guess that the humor continues in something along this vein.

Wolf Hall is funny too, often morbidly so. But the humor is more subtle and sly. For instance, when Thomas Cromwell reminisces about helping his abusive father, Walter, shoeing horses, Mantel gives us this:

Their hooves gripped in Walter’s hands, they’d tremble; it was his job to hold their heads and talk to them, rubbing the velvet space between their ears, telling them how their mothers love them and talk about them still, and how Walter will soon be over.

In the midst of Machiavellian maneuvering (“The Prince” has a recurring role), this break manages to induce a sympathetic smile. It also tells us something about Thomas, both where he comes from (which is already well-established by the time this story is related) and the type of person he is. And that is what Mantel does very well, she uses the whole of her book to explore this character, Thomas Cromwell. The exploration is fascinating.

But, now I am being unfair. I read Wolf Hall, I did not read Fever Chart. So, I will compare their openings. Fever Chart I quoted above. Wolf Hall gives us this:

“So now get up.”

Felled, dazed, silent, he has fallen; knocked full length on the cobbles of the yard. His head turns sideways; his eyes are turned toward the gate, as if someone might arrive to help him out. One blow, properly placed, could kill him now.

Wolf Hall begins with the same sense of urgency, foreboding, and fighting against fate that pervades the rest of the novel. Thomas Cromwell is a fighter. Wolf Hall is too. This is the blow that kills Fever Chart.

Update:

Wolf Hall advances.

With this win, Chris has wrapped up the 2010 TOB Contest. Chris has 21 points and Mantel as the Champion. Christy has 19 points and Mantel as the Champion. Lizzy has 18 points and Mantel. So, an early congratulations to Chris. Start perusing my archives to make your choice.

Everyone else, you still have a shot at the Second Chance Prize. I will pick a winner using a true random number generator. Good luck. And remember, if we live in a multiverse, you are all guaranteed winners.

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