I was shocked to hear last night that Hilary Mantel had died, aged 70.
I had read and adored Mantel’s Wolf Hall trilogy and been captivated by the author’s genius. The huge books had sat on my bedside table for weeks each, as I entered the frightening, fascinating world of the Thomas Cromwell that she imagined, with some help from history.
It is a strange feeling to mourn for someone who you have never met.
But in a way, it is not mourning the person – something that is reserved for the friends and family who knew her – but it is mourning for the words she would have written.
I feel so sad knowing that I will never be excited to learn about an upcoming release, and never wait excitedly for the package to arrive at my door.
There is a similar sense of loss when it comes to musicians who die before their time – it is difficult to comprehend there will never be a new lyric written and sung by our favourite performers.
While writers are often long-lived, rarely faced with the temptations of the rock star, it does not mean that there isn’t a wrench when they die, however old they might be.
It took me a while to comprehend that literary great, Toni Morrison, died in 2019 aged 88, and I felt the loss of Joan Didion recently.
Perhaps there was a similar sense of loss of future joy in witnessing a great in their field when a top sportsman retires – I think of the worldwide sigh of disappointment when Roger Federer announced his retirement and can see the same grief.
In case you’re feeling the sadness of Mantel’s passing, and the loss of the future works she could have created, here are some of my favourite quotes from the Wolf Hall trilogy. Just reading them brings on the sense of loss once again.
“The fate of peoples is made like this, two men in small rooms. Forget the coronations, the conclaves of cardinals, the pomp and processions. This is how the world changes: a counter pushed across a table, a pen stroke that alters the force of a phrase, a woman’s sigh as she passes and leaves on the air a trail of orange flower or rose water; her hand pulling close the bed curtain, the discreet sigh of flesh against flesh.” Wolf Hall
“You can be merry with the king, you can share a joke with him. But as Thomas More used to say, it’s like sporting with a tamed lion. You tousle its mane and pull its ears, but all the time you’re thinking, those claws, those claws, those claws.” Bring Up the Bodies
“A man’s power is in the half-light, in the half-seen movements of his hand and the unguessed-at expression of his face. It is the absence of facts tat frightens people: the gap you open, into which they pour their fears, fantasies, desires.” Wolf Hall
“We councillors think we are men of vision and learning, we gravely delineate our position, set forth our plans and argue our case far into the night. Then some little girl sweeps through and upsets the candle and sets fire to our sleeve; leaves us slapping ourselves like madmen, trying to save our skin.” The Mirror & the Light
“[The princess] looks out and sees the humble musician with his lute. But unless the musician turns out to be a prince in disguise, this story cannot end well.” Bring Up the Bodies
“Now, sensing that he has less than a week to live, he must pick up his images from where he has left them, walking his own inner terrain. . . He must traverse his whole life, waking and sleeping: you cannot leave your memories alone in this world, for other men to own.” The Mirror & the Light