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Fludd by Hilary Mantel

Fludd (1989)

by Hilary Mantel

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  1. 00
    Under the Glacier by Halldor Laxness (deb80)
    deb80: Similar plot and characters. The bishop is not amused. He sends an emissary to investigate a malfunctioning pastor, church and congregation, with wacky and wonderful results.

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A novel about change, After reading Mantel's memoir, the location, characters and milieu of this short novel are doubly interesting, maybe even enchanting. Quite different from either the Wolf Hall novels or "Every Day is Mothers Day" in some respects, quite like those works in other ways. ( )
  nmele | May 3, 2016 |
An angel? A somewhat mysterious man shows up at the parish. Who is he? Helps the priest ave the statues, helps a young girl. Fun and effective story. ( )
  idiotgirl | Mar 6, 2016 |
I wasn't quite sure what to make of this book, except that I know I really enjoyed it. The book has a [[Barbara Pym]] flavor - set in 1950s England and focused on clergy, the church, and an unsatisfied woman. But then, of course, it has Mantel's own stamp. A man, Fludd, appears on the parsonage steps and Father Angwin, a priest trying to hide his lack of faith from his congregants, assumes he is the curate that the Bishop recently told him he'd be sending. As we get to know Fludd better, though, things are not as they seem. There's just a hint of the supernatural about him. Things and people seem to be shifting with his presence. His effect on one of the local nuns, Sister Philomena, is extreme, but others change in smaller ways.

In a note before the book begins, Mantel says the "the real Fludd (1574-1637) was a physician, scholar, and alchemist. In alchemy, everything has a literal and factual description, and in addition a description that is symbolic and fantastical." Mantel has incorporated these ideas of alchemy into her interesting and satisfying book. ( )
  japaul22 | Jan 16, 2016 |
Mantel gives us a glimpse into the priesthood and into convent life in Fludd. The setting is Fetherhoughton, a rather miserable mill town. Father Angwin struggles with alcoholism. In fact, he really no longer believes in God. Fludd, who is believed to be the curate sent by the bishop to assist in the parish, arrives and insists upon changes. He even convinced the mother in charge of the convent to allow him to see into the room containing the belongings of the nuns as they entered convent life. We see the struggles and temptations faced by the nuns as well. Fludd is based upon an alchemist who lived in the late 1500s and early 1600s. I am a bit disappointed that none of the major characters are committed to their vows, but the novel is still quite worthwhile. The novel contains quite a few "sound bites" that are quotable. ( )
  thornton37814 | Dec 30, 2015 |
Hilary Mantel is best known in recent years for her award winning novels Wolf Hall (2009) and Bring Up the Bodies (2012). Given the accolades showered upon Mantel's fictional treatment of Tudor England, readers may be forgiven for overlooking one of her earlier novels, Fludd (1989.) Indeed, short, strange, tragicomic, and allegorical, Fludd could easily be dismissed as a curio, a relic from before Mantel's ascent to literary stardom. But like the novel's title character, Fludd conceals more than it lets on.

Mantel takes us to Fetherhoughton, a dour mill town in the north of England. Mid-twentieth century Fetherhoughton is a singularly miserable place, surrounded by moors on three sides, "the vast cemetery of [the villagers'] imaginations" (12). Father Angwin, Fetherhoughton's spiritual leader, is a drunk. He is also an atheist. Agnes Dempsey, Father Angwin's be-moled housekeeper, cares for the priest and keeps him to a semblance of order.

The "modern" bishop, upon visiting Fetherhoughton, insists that Father Angwin dispose of the statues of saints that line the church. Father Angwin is distraught: "[F]aith being dead, if we are not to become automatons, we must hold on to our superstitions as hard as we may" (27). The bishop will also send a curate to "assist"--that is, spy upon--Father Angwin. When the titular Fludd arrives in Fetherhoughton, he is both more and less than what he seems, and he sets into motion events that will change the lives of Father Angwin, Agnes, and Sister Philomena, among other Fetherhoughtonians.

Mantel narrates Fludd with a diction that is distinctly English even to these benighted American ears. The "typography of Fetherhoughton may repay consideration," Mantel tells us. "So may the manners, customs and dress of its inhabitants," all of which, by the way, Mantel neatly skewers (11). That line is representative of a syntax and vocabulary that is singularly English. The propriety of Mantel's writing lends it an archness that simultaneously softens and enhances the jibes she makes at her characters' expense. Fetherhoughtonians, stand-ins for Mantel's northern countrymen, refer to the second stories of their homes as "miyoopstairs" (13). Distraught by the suggestion of the vernacular Mass, Father Angwin comments of the townspeople, "I can well understand if you think Latin's too good for them. But the problem I have here is their little grasp of the English language, do you see?" (10). Mantel employs this diction and tone to great comic effect throughout Fludd. She makes it plain that Fetherhoughtonians know nothing about their faith, and the (faux) politeness of her delivery makes clear not only the absurdity of their practice, but also the absolute confidence with which they mangle their religion.

Some readers have complained that Fludd loses its momentum in its third act. It's true that the story grows somber as Mantel shifts her perspective from Father Angwin's battles with the bishop to Sister Philomena's more existential struggle with life as a nun. In my opinion, Mantel's decision to focus on Sister Philomena improves the story. It takes what would be a passing comedy and lends it greater depth. As Mantel makes clear before she begins the novel, Fludd is based on a sixteenth and seventeenth century alchemist, so the story must involve transformation. Some readers may find Sister Philomena dull--I did not--but, by becoming involved with her, Fludd himself is changed. Fludd confesses that he normally ignores women, but he is drawn to Philomena. Through Philomena, then, Mantel takes a deus ex machina-type character, the mysterious and unknowable Fludd, and illuminates his humanity. The novel is the better for it.

Fludd may not be a perfect or even a great novel, but it is a very good one. Some readers have commented on its subtle "gothic" tone, but that's hardly right; indeed, if the gothic is present at all in Fludd, it is there for Mantel to mock. Fludd is something of a paradox. It is a comedy that knows the importance of the issues at which it pokes fun. Mantel is cynical, but she also believes in personal transformation. It is complicated, like Father Angwin, who, having given up on God, fights all the harder on behalf of "the dear old faith." Fludd is of two minds, like many of us these days: "Everyone is where they should be; or we may collude in pretending so. And God's in his heaven? Very bloody likely, Father Angwin thought" (157). Highly recommended. ( )
  LancasterWays | Apr 3, 2015 |
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On Wednesday the bishop came in person.
Out of her black drapings and her rolls of petticoats, standing shivering in the fireless parlour in her long linen drawers, she looked a pitiful beanpole ... she stood with her arms crossed over her breasts in a pose at once picturesque and gauche: going to God knows what.
"Twilfit or Excelsior?" Sister Anthony asked.
"Oh, I couldn't. I couldn't put on corsets. I've never worn corsets in my life."
Sister Anthony was taken aback. "Don't you have them in Ireland these days?"
"I shouldn't know how to manage. What if I wanted to go to the lavatory?"
"You'll have to have something, you know." Sister Anthony felt around in the chest. "Try this bust-bodice. Come on now, look lively. ... Either you may have my silk combinations," she said, "or you'll have to go in your drawers, please yourself.""
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0805062734, Paperback)

Fetherhoughton, the shabby and provincial village of Hilary Mantel's fifth novel, Fludd, possesses a charm that is, at best, latent. The surrounding moorland is foreboding, the populace is querulous and ill-educated, and the presiding priest is an atheist. It's 1956, and drabness is general to this English backwater. Until, that is, the appearance of a disarming young priest who, apparently, has been dispatched to wrest Fetherhoughton out of its superstitious stupor. One of the novel's several wonders is that Fludd surpasses all expectations.

Father Angwin, Fetherhoughton's disbelieving priest, has--much to the displeasure of his superiors--grown comfortable with the entrenched, misapprehending devoutness of his flock. Fludd, who may or may not be the curate sent to deliver the wayward, exerts an immediate, if unexpected, influence. He intrigues the townspeople, flusters the church's gaggle of nuns, kindles a welcome self-examination in Father Angwin, and arouses the passion of the young and yearning Sister Philomena. A charge of possibility suddenly animates the village, accompanied by several incidents that seem midway between coincidence and miracle. Fludd, however, remains beset by an insistent disillusionment--his clarity, it seems, arcs outward only.

Mantel's cramped and pliant village is a marvel. Fetherhoughton "wrestles not against flesh and blood but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world," insists the dour headmistress, Mother Perpetua. A local tobacconist, not so trivially, just might be the devil in human garb. Fludd's gift lies in unearthing all the lovely and fearsome truths buried just beneath the surface. "The frightening thing is that life is fair," he observes, "but what we need... is not justice but mercy." The fruits of this conviction, in Fetherhoughton, are rebellion, self-assertion, and even scandal; but Mantel's lovely tale suggests that difficult possibility is fair compensation for a sloughed predictability. --Ben Guterson

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:07:18 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

From the double Man Booker prize-winning author of 'Wolf Hall', this is a dark fable of lost faith and awakening love amidst the moors. Fetherhoughton is a drab, dreary town somewhere in a magical, half-real 1950s north England, a preserve of ignorance and superstition protected against the advance of reason by its impenetrable moor-fogs. Father Angwin, the town's cynical priest, has lost his faith, and wants nothing more than to be left alone. Sister Philomena strains against the monotony of convent life and the pettiness of her fellow nuns. The rest of the town goes about their lives in a haze, a never-ending procession of grim, grey days stretching ahead of them. Yet all of that is about to change. A strange visitor appears one stormy night, bringing with him the hint, the taste of something entirely new, something unknown. But who is Fludd? An angel come to shake the Fetherhoughtonians from their stupor, to reawaken Father Angwin's faith, to show Philomena the nature of love? Or is he the devil himself, a shadowy wanderer of the darkest places in the human heart? Full of dry wit, compassionate characterisations and cutting insight, Fludd is a brilliant gem of a book, and one of Hilary Mantel's most original works.… (more)

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