I picked up The Giant as a free book when pre-ordering Bring Up The Bodies, Mantel’s sequel to the wonderful Wolf Hall.
I wasn’t sure what to expect: the blurb identifying the setting of the book in 1782 didn’t inspire me: with the exception of Wolf Hall historical fiction has never really been my bag. But on the strength of Wolf Hall and it’s appeal to my impecunity, I took a punt.
The Giant of the title, Charles O’Brien, however seems to have stepped out of Irish mythology and the Tuatha Dé Danaan and the Sidhe. The concerns that I have about most historical fiction (that the depth of research and shoe-horning in of faux authenticity – yes, I’m aware of both the pretentiousness and oxymoronic nature of that sentence!) fell away!
The Giant is a story teller and Mantel creates this wonderfully evocative passage in which he starts to tell a tale in exchange for shelter and food.
“The Giant hesitated, looked deep into the smoke of the fire. Outside, most gathered on the mountain. Shapes formed in the corner of the room that were not the shapes of cattle and were unseen by Connor, Jankin and Claffey; only Pybus who, because of his youth had fewer skins, shifted his feet like a restless horse and lifted his nose at the whiff of an alien smell.”
Stunningly beautiful passage!
I love the sensuousness of the depiction of the tale as smell; the sense of otherworldliness of the alien presence of the story; the power of words and narrative to do more than describe and narrate but to create or invoke; I love the image of men wrapped up in so many layers of skins that they become blind to the magic and power around them which only children can see!