Dating Stephen King and Hilary Mantel

I haven’t read any Stephen King in fifteen years. I used to love him, and my best friend and I used to eagerly go to the bookstore on the day any new book of his was released. But something happened; either his writing changed or my tastes changed. Maybe both. Anyway, my love affair with King ended and I went on to see others.

But I saw good reviews for his 11.22.63, a time-travel novel about someone trying to stop President Kennedy’s assassination. When I started reading, King seemed much better than I remembered, and I was surprised. It felt like meeting an old girlfriend you had dumped because your relationship wasn’t going anywhere, only to discover she was doing much, much better without you.

Unfortunately, by the middle of the book I was bogged down. The plot had stopped developing and apparently the middle third of the book is devoted to rather weak characterisation. As I struggled, an important day came closer and closer. It was a day I had long been waiting for: the release of Hilary Mantel’s Bring Up the Bodies, the sequel to Wolf Hall, which deservedly won the Man Booker.

Finally, I abandoned King with a twinge of guilt. It was like I had walked out in the middle of an awkward date because I saw a supermodel at the next table eating alone.

But, damn, it is hard to regret forsaking King, because Mantel is an amazing supermodel. She’s intelligent, funny, and so beautiful as to make the heart ache. There are many, many good writers out there, but there are very few that send me into paroxysm of joy just to read their prose. Mantel is one.

At home in his city house at Austin Friars, his portrait broods on the wall; he is wrapped in wool and fur, his hand clenched around a document as if he were throttling it. Hans had pushed a table back to trap him and said, Thomas, you mustn’t laugh; and they had proceeded on that basis, Hans humming as he worked and he staring ferociously into the middle distance. When he saw the portrait finished he had said, ‘Christ, I look like a murderer’; and his son Gregory said, didn’t you know?

Thomas Cromwell. Portrait by Hans Holbein.

In my youth I would never have dreamt of abandoning a book. I stuck it through to the end, no matter how terrible the date. I don’t do that anymore. There are so many good potential partners out there it seems silly to see a bad one through to the end.

So I’m sorry for walking out in the middle of the main course, Stephen, but hopefully you understand. I love remembering our good times, like The Stand and Pet Semetary. Who knows? Maybe I’ll ask you out again someday. But right now I need to be with Hilary.

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