Book Review: Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

One approaches a review of a book which won the Man Booker Prize (2009) with some trepidation. Reviewers of the highest repute passed early judgement and showered copious praises on this opus magnus of 650 pages. So although one would like to begin any book review with some positive remarks, and in this case to share some of the glow of satisfaction manifested by the judges of the great prize, it is not easy in a book with flaws that seem to overwhelm the undoubted scholarship and novelty of approach to an old and oft-told story.The first and biggest problem is the style of writing. Although not written in the first person the narrative is presented from the perspective of the historical figure of Thomas Cromwell. The reader is almost never told that it is Cromwell who is speaking, and this frequently leads to passages needing to be carefully reread to fully understand the import of the dialogue. Cromwell’s words are always assigned by ‘he said,’ inducing in the reader the repeated question, ‘who said?’A second problem is the character of Thomas Cromwell, who is presented as a man so far ahead of his time and his contemporaries as to provoke incredulity. One doubts if a person with his attributed humanitarian sentiments could have risen to such pre-eminence in those brutal times of naked ambition. He speaks of having once stabbed a man under the ribs but if he ever stabbed anyone in the back it is left unrecorded. The real Thomas Cromwell plotted the execution of Anne Boleyn, but that was after the time of the book’s ending, and is hard to imagine of the Cromwell of the book.Another problem involves both the title of the book and its ending. Wolf Hall is the home of the Seymour family, and as every schoolboy and schoolgirl knows, Jane Seymour was destined to become King Henry VIII’s next wife after Anne Boleyn. This unmentioned history is apparently intended to be a shadow overhanging the narrative, but it is too thinly expressed to have the impact that it might otherwise have achieved. Such a subtle mist might be appreciated by professors of history and the august judges of the Man Booker Prize but one suspects that it leaves most lay readers, including this reviewer, in a state of uncertainty.The idea of the book is a good one, and must have involved a great deal of historical research, but it might have been developed in a more dramatic way. The light touch leads to a long end passage of fading narrative interest. The only incentive to go on is to gain the satisfaction of completing all 650 pages.

Classic Bike Profiles – A Brief History of Excelsior Motorcycles

The Coventry based company Bayliss Thomas & Co Ltd made Excelsior motorcycles from 1896 to 1965 making it one of the earliest of British motorcycle makers. Prior to this time they were a bicycle manufacturing company. The earliest models were based on Minerva and De Dion engines, although by 1909 they released their first machine powered by an Excelsior engine. A wide range of singles and twins were made over the subsequent years.Immediately after the end of the First World war, the company changed its name to The Excelsior Motor Company Co Ltd and production was moved to Birmingham.The first racing success in a major level took place in 1929, when Excelsior won the Lightweight TT. Inspired by this success, Excelsior launched an extensive array of models in 1930 ranging from a 147cc Villiers JAP lightweight to a 490cc JAP.In the subsequent years, Excelsior continued to compete in the TT, most notably in 1933 when the infamous Mechanical Marvel using a radial valve Blackburne engine was run. Syd Gleave managed to win the race, although the machine was found to be so unreliable that it was dropped the following year. But its demise was soon followed by another great machine, the OHC Manxman. Originally in made in 250cc and 350cc forms, the Manxman is still a greatly sought after machine. A 500cc versio was introduced in 1937. As the name suggests, the Manxman was a good sports machine, being raced initially at the Isle of Man Lightweight TT from 1935. In 1939, Excelsior came third, while it came second in every year from 1936 to 1938. The greatest success however, was its victory in the 1936 European GP, before an audience of 200,000 people in Chemnitz, Germany.In 1940, Excelsior took up war related tasks, and began manufacturing the ‘Welbike’, a small collapsible motorcycle that was used by Allied Paratroopers. In 1946, it recommenced its manufacture of civilian motorcycles, but the war had seen the end of the Manxman and the range was then limited to lightweight models. The adventurous Talisman was the best known of Excelsior’s post war models, using its own four speed gearbox and 243cc two stroke engine. The Consort was the best seller in that period, and it achieved a peak annual output of 10,000 units.The company also moved into the production of scooters including the Skutabike, launched in 1957, and the Monarch, launched in 1958. However, sales were not strong and the company began a gradual and steady decline until 1965 when the company finally ceased motorcycle production and the once glorious name of Excelsior disappeared as the company was acquired by the Britax organization.