For the Young Adult book market, the biggest event is the release of a new Harry Potter novel. For the adult literary market – particularly for those with a taste for the historical – the release of a new Hilary Mantel novel is perhaps its equivalent.
The Mirror and the Light, the third and final instalment to Mantel’s superb, million-selling Thomas Cromwell trilogy, was released last month. Critics are already enthused about the Booker winner’s latest offering, calling it a masterpiece.
I have already ordered my copy and blocked out time to pore through its 912 pages with glee. I regard Mantel’s story about the rise and fall of King Henry the Eighth’s Chief Minister as the most enthralling historical work since I, Claudius (or, as many a schoolboy called it, Roman letters included, “I, Clavdivs”). The TV series starring Claire Foy, Damian Lewis and Oscar winner Mark Rylance as Cromwell also rivals the television adaptation of I, Claudius.
Yes, I admit it: I have “Mantel mania”.
Yet is saddens me to think that others will turn their back on the new book, not only for the number of pages, but also because it is “historical”. I noticed a disdain way back in high school for modern and ancient history, a lack of interest in the tales of the Greeks, Tudors and Romans but also Australia’s own history. As for myself, I was so fascinated by the Spartans they have influenced my own books.
Sadly, this disdain has made its way into society. History is “fusty” and “boring”. Statues and memorials are Airbnbs for pigeons, not opportunities for reflection.
Yet without history, how do we understand where we are now? How will we appreciate the eternal battle between church and state? How will we mark the many wars, the many sacrifices, the many inventions that helped create today’s society? How will we avoid the mistakes of history if we don’t know what they are, such as “the Thucydides Trap”?
If we don’t read and understand history, we won’t appreciate it, either in books or in our landscape.
We will condemn our history to the wrecking ball, as we seem to be already doing in our major cities.
Then there is my current fear: that the terrible memories of the recent bushfires will be forgotten. That amid new events and catastrophes, COVID-19 or otherwise, we will forget the smoke in the cities, the terrible toll in the bush, and be surprised if and when it happens again.
For those who don’t learn history are in danger of being continually surprised.
Or, even worse: they are doomed to repeat it.
Keep the reading going with my military thriller The Spartan, out now as an ebook. Then enjoy the sequel, Game Of Killers: The Spartan, out now as an ebook and paperback.