S is for So-So (Sansom)

What I read: Dissolution by C.J. Sansom

I haven't forgotten my reading challenge! The beginning weeks of a semester, I turn into a grading couch potato. But Spring Break is approaching, mid-terms are almost over, and I can breathe temporarily. *Whew.*

I didn't make the "S" part of the challenge easier for myself by picking an easy book. The odd thing about my choice for "S" is that the book should have been easy. It should have been right up my alley. I should have finished it in less than a week (it took me over a month, and I gave up about 20 pages before the end).

The book is a historical mystery, and it does a lot of things right. The author manages to combine a modern voice with a historical perspective. To my mind, this is exactly how historical novels should be written.

For example, I dislike historical novels where everyone speaks "forsoothly." It's one thing to put up with that kind of language from Shakespeare (and after all, he has an excuse). It's another to put up with it from a modern writer who will, inevitably, get the "forsoothiness" wrong anyway.

They didn't sound "forsoothly" to each other. Why not just make them sound like normal human beings? Especially since human greed and politicalmongering ain't exactly new to the human race. It isn't as if everyone hit the Middle Ages and then got all highminded and archaic about it. So why make it sound that way?

A Man for All Seasons is a good example of a play that captures the politicking and even the formalism of court speech while avoiding the "forsoothiness".

The other thing Sansom does right is capture the historical mindset. He is writing about the time period right after Queen Anne was beheaded. Henry VIII, through Cromwell, is attempting to dismantle the Catholic monasteries piece by piece.

Sansom does an excellent job capturing the complexity of the issue. The most remarkable thing to me is how little resistance there was. This was not a case of an entirely Catholic country being turned, overnight, into a Protestant one. Many English men and women were already headed into, or firmly entrenched in, Protestant territory when Henry VIII broke with the Catholic church (a weasly powerplay, if there ever was one).

Which doesn't mean nobody put up a fight (hence priest holes and plotting to put Mary, Queen of Scots on the throne during Elizabeth's reign), especially since Henry VIII and Cromwell were motivated as much by greed and power as by any particular theology. (Dismantle a monastery, get its land, fill your coffers!) Sansom wends his way skillfully through what must have been a quagmire of good, bad, and ambivalent intentions.

And it was boring. It shouldn't have been. But it was. I was so impressed by Sansom's skill, I got out his second book, but I could never finish the first (I got to within the last chapter, skipped ahead, discovered the murderer, and put the book down with a grateful sigh).

I actually recommend the book if you like well-written, historical, medieval mysteries. But don't blame me if you run out of interest!

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