Liz Smith: Off With Her Head! “Bring Up The Bodies” is the Best Book Yet About Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn

“DON’T INCENSE the king, sir. You know what Thomas More used to say: ’If the lion knew his own strength, it were hard to rule him.’”

So speaks the character Richard Riche in a new novel about Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn. 

I AM busy now reading Hilary Mantel’s Bring Up the Bodies This is the best-selling hit sequel to the writer’s Man Booker prizewinner, Wolf Hall — a story that even amateur historians just can’t get enough of — the rise and fall ofAnne Boleyn and of the men and women who rose and fell with her.

Even when you know what will happen, Mantel’s novelistic version of this moment in the bloody life of King Henry VIII, as seen by his advisor Thomas Cromwell, is surprising in the adroit hands of this writer. She makes that terrifying history with its emphasis on power, men rising to greatness, only to fall to the hangman’s axe, like a more personalized reign of terror to come. (The French Revolution’s Bastille hasn’t a patch on the horrors of the Tower.)

The author is a lyrical mysterious Shakespearean sort of writer, her words as beautiful as falcons against the sky, then landing with gore on their talons. (All birds named for women, incidentally.)

I want to add, there has never been anyone to describe the neurotic, cruel, self-indulgent, intelligent, but egotistical King Henry as well as Mantel does. And, I’ve read all the other books.

Let me just show a small part of this novel, dealing with 1530’s England, that doesn’t deal with torture, terror and survival, but seems to resonate today: “But Parliament cannot see how it is the state’s job to create work. Are not these matters in God’s hands, and is not poverty and dereliction part of his eternal order? … It is an outrage to the rich and enterprising to suggest that they should pay an income tax, only to put bread in the mouths of the work shy. And if Secretary Cromwell argues that famine provokes criminality: well, are there not hangmen enough?”

IN CASE you’re interested (if not, just skip this “what I did on my vacation” bit.) I spent the most divine Memorial Day weekend in Maine and I want to rave about how beautiful that incredible state is in the springtime when the grass and trees are green, the water, slate blue, and the skies azure.

The White Barn Inn is a kind of sprawling place that seems to “have just growed” in Kennebunkport and it excels in — charm and service. You can’t need or want anything that there isn’t someone at your elbow to help you get it. The service here is old-fashioned, exquisite — the way things used to be. The food was great and everything ran like clockwork.

The White Barn Inn in Kennebunkport, Maine.

 

My group took a two-hour tour out of the harbor and past the George Walker Bush compound that equals any experience I’ve ever had on a sailboat. We went past the different colored lobster buoys bobbing in the water and used binoculars to see the statue of a lifesize cow with calf, situated on the Bush lawn.

We were told that President George Bush the elder is now in a wheelchair but still goes out on his own boat and commands the wheel the entire way. It is difficult to imagine a storm here.

Bush compound in Kennebunkport.

Kennebunkport, with its monastery of monks and its plethora of brilliantly-kept-up houses, magnificent spring flowers, multi coffee emporiums, fast and slow food and divinely retro nightlife — all offered in the utmost taste — was just perfect. I expect traffic here in the summertime is another matter, but for now, it was great.

I’ll say one thing for this past Memorial Day. The celebrations of our veterans seemed genuine and heart-felt for a change. And nobody, but nobody in my diverse party of 20 people, mixing and mingling for three days, said a single word about politics.

THIS REMINDS ME that they used to say in the good old days, “As Maine goes, so goes the nation!” This turned out not to be true when Maine ceased to be a political weather vane and voted only with Vermont!

NOW THE New York Times columnist Gail Collins uses this hoary saying to update reality in her brand new book published any minute: As Texas Goes…— meaning as Texas goes, so goes the nation these days.

Gail kicked off her latest in a party at the Times building yesterday. Her book is maybe the most important one of the year when it comes to the election of the President and the manner in which state’s “rights” seem to be dominating the entire process.

You can hear Gail Collins in an interview with the Wowowow women on Sirius XM Radio at 10 a.m. come June 6th. I hope to be one of Gail’s inquisitors. And as I know a little bit about Texas myself, it should be rousing.

DAVID WESTIN, the recently departed head of ABC-TV News has also written a book I couldn’t put down.

Sherrie and David Westin.

He runs the gamut, telling first of how things were from the spectacular rise of Roone Arledge till the ever-changing news treatment of today. (Roone with his real-time TV, his circus of continuing big stars, and his peculiar way of never being available to anyone unless he wanted to be, is a story in itself.) Westin deals with the multi-changes that have taken place since the ’70s in the coverage of news. (I am speaking of course, about the current partisanship, argument and fact-distorting progress of the Internet.)

Mr. Westin, whose attractive helper wife, Sherrie, is an engaging overseer of the Sesame Workshop, starts his book off with a fabulous anecdote about the late Peter Jennings.

It seems the broadcasting star, Peter, didn’t believe the death of Princess Diana was going to be a big story and he dug in his heels. The winners? Diane Sawyer and Barbara Walters who knew Diana was the story of the year and stuck to their guns.

There is more, much more, in Exit Interview and David Westin, surrendering the helm of ABC News, is a surprising story teller. His book is an important addition to TV history. As he once clerked for a Supreme Court Justice, I am just waiting to see what David Westin does next.

This column originally appeared on NYSocialDiary.com on 5/31/12

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