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TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon September 1, 2000
The doleful, English, mill town of Fetherhoughton is the stage for this short, delightful novel, FLUDD, by Hilary Mantel. There are four principal players. Father Angwin, pastor of the Roman Catholic church of St. Thomas Aquinas, has lost his belief in God's existence, but determinedly continues to serve his flock while suffering the oversight of his idiot diocesan bishop. Miss Dempsey, his spinster housekeeper, lives in terror of a small wart above her upper lip, thinking it a portent of cancer. Sister Philomena, a nun teaching in the parish school, is an Irish girl forced by her family into the convent, where she endures the petty tyranny of its Mother Superior. Then there's FLUDD, a curate ostensibly sent by the obnoxious bishop to help Angwin modernize his pastoral approach. Or is he? Once Fludd is in residence, people begin to ... transform.
The engaging aspect of this story is that the reader never understands the nature of the being called Fludd, a mystery also grazing Angwin's perception during his first meal with Fludd, when the former observed:
"Whenever (he) looked up at (Fludd), it seemed that his whiskey glass was raised to his lips, but the level of what was in it did not seem to go down; and yet from time to time the young man reached out for the bottle, and topped himself up. It had been the same with their late dinner, there were three sausages on Father Fludd's plate, and he was always cutting into one or other, and spearing a bit on his fork; he was always chewing in an unobtrusive, polite way, with his mouth shut tight. And yet there were always three sausages on his plate, until at last, quite suddenly, there were none."
Is Fludd a man, or something ... else. He can tell fortunes by looking at the palm of one's hand. He alludes to having once been the practitioner of another profession that sounds a lot like alchemy. Odd talents for a Catholic priest. In any case, by the satisfying end of the tale, you, the reader, is left to decide for yourself - if you can.
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on January 11, 1999
This extraordinary work in her earlier, lighter style is more accessible than "A Change of Climate." Its eponynous character is a priest -- or is he? Sent to assist a priest in a northern English parish, Fludd engages the Catholic community in unusual ways. The author's signature clarity and dark humor are consistently evident, both in the limning of parish personalities and in the ways in which Fludd brings about his transformations. There is an episode that is perhaps the closest Mantel has ever come to a sex scene, handled with utter delicacy. "Fludd" is a bravura performance and resoundingly satisfying, and it's a pity it has never been released on this side of the pond.
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VINE VOICEon January 17, 2002
This is a most unusual story, and I hardly know how to
describe what I've read. It reminds me of so many
British films that I've seen over the years where you
never know exactly what's going on, but you like it
anyway.
In FLUDD we're presented with an obscure town in England
called Fetherhoughton. This is not your lovely little
English village where the characters of Rosamund Pilcher
live. No, this seems to be a dark and depressing place
which is surrounded by moors. Within this town there is
a church located next to a convent of nuns. The parish
priest, Father Angwin is a seemingly kind man who has a
problem with faith: he has lost his. His very
disagreeable Bishop is always after Father Angwin to
make changes and modernize his church. In fact,
the Bishop makes some ridiculous demands which the
parish fulfills and then insinuates that Father Angwin
needs assistance. Enter Father Fludd who apparently is
the new curate and has come to rescue the church and
the people of Fetherhoughton.
Father Angwin, his housekeeper, Agnes Dempsey, and the
young Irish nun, Sister Philomena all need help in one way
or other. Then, there is the very sinister Judd McEvoy
who runs the town's tobacco shop. He appears to cast a
dark cloud over everything. Father Fludd definitely
makes a difference, but who is he and where does he
come from? None of the other characters seem able
to describe the mysterious Fludd.
A story unlike any other. An excellent read!
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VINE VOICEon June 1, 2012
I was so impressed by Hilary Mantel's "Wolf Hall" and "Bring Up the Bodies" that I became curious about her previous career and chose this 1989 novel to sample. It is full of the author's mordant black humor, her gimlet eye for the telling phrase, her talent for sharp dialogue and beautiful descriptions, her sharp insight into her characters -- but it remains a minor work. Perhaps she was practicing for a challenge worthy of her tremendous talents and eventually found it in "Wolf Hall." For I am convinced that Mantel is one of the major literary figures of our time -- which makes even her minor works very much worth reading.

We are somewhere in northern England in the mid-1950s in Fetherhoughton, a grimy village peopled by ignorant and superstitious mill workers. Their spiritual needs are met by Father Angwin, a strictly traditional Catholic priest who long ago lost his faith in God but holds his life together through orthodox adherence to the traditional religious forms. "Faith is dead," the father says. "And faith being dead, if we are not to become automatons we must hang on to our superstitions as hard as we may."

The villagers send their ill-shod children to be educated in a school staffed by sadistic nuns with names like Mother Perpetua and Sister Polycarp. Father Angwin says of his parishioners, "These people aren't Christians. These people are heathens and Catholics." He himself is lost in weighty theological questions such as whether meat drippings may be used to fry fish on Fridays.

One day, the local Bishop visits Father Angwin and tells him he must bring his church and his practices up to date. That means getting rid of the array of statues of minor saints all except three. To Father Angwin's horror, he even suggests saying mass in the vernacular -- and he promises to send an assistant to help the venerable Father look after his flock. Some time later, the curate Fludd arrives.

From the first, there is something strange about him. Nobody can ever remember quite what he looks like. Father Anwin sits drinking whiskey with him long hours and yet the bottle is never empty. Nobody ever sees him eat; food simply disappears from his plate. Is Fludd the Devil -- or at least a devil?

If he is, his intent seems benign. It is to rescue from the drudgery of the convent a young Catholic girl Sister Philomena. Mantel provides a harrowing account of convent life, from the tasteless food to the unending prayers to the clumsy garments (and she knows exactly how they must be put on and taken off.) Rescuing this sweet, young girl from such a meaningless and miserable life would be like liberating an entire people from tyranny.

This book is a notable entry in the annals of black humor and deserves to be read as a kind of "amuse bouche" ahead of the author's really significant later novels.
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VINE VOICEon May 3, 2009
Do you ever get that feeling when reading a book that you're a part of something special and very important, but you aren't entirely sure that you can grasp the entirety of what the author is presenting to you? That is the feeling I had with Fludd. It didn't seem as though there was much plot to the book until the very end, and then all at once I was finished and was left feeling as though I had read everything closely but had somehow missed The Big Picture.

The book is about religion and faith and the positive and negative effects the two can have on people. But there is so much more to it. Symbolism, I might say, up the wazoo. There are statues and nuns and obscure questions of faith ("If one uses dripping to cook on a Friday during Lent, is that considered eating meat?"). A never-ending carafe of whiskey. A priest who claims disbelief in God to Fludd, but who then says that the devil lives in Netherhoughton. (Can you believe in the devil but not in God? Is that not depressing?) And then, the biggest enigma of them all, there is Fludd.

He arrives and miracles happen. No one can really describe what his face looks like. He appears to finish the food on his plate, but no one ever sees him put food in his mouth. He doesn't seem to do much of anything, but he comes and he goes and things are different. His name, at the least, suggests a great deal about him.

I realize that I haven't so much reviewed this book as made oblique references to how much it has remained in my mind after I finished reading it. Isn't that a stellar review in and of itself? I should think most authors want readers to continue chewing over their stories after reading the last word. I am still chewing (much as Fludd spent much of the book chewing without seeming to eat anything). But I think I know enough about my reaction to recommend the book- it is a misleading slim volume, but it will stay with you after you're done.
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on February 13, 2001
Fludd was my first Hilary Mantel book, and I'm thrilled there are a half-dozen or so for me to read. I hope they're equally funny and creative. Mantel offers a vivid portrait of the dismal little town of Fetherhoughton, its spiritually troubled residents and the mysterious stranger who shakes things up for everyone. Although the scope of the story is small, I was completely caught up in the world of the atheist Father Angwin, the confused young Sister Philomena and, of course, the enigmatic Fludd. As an added bonus, the book is occasionally laugh-out-loud funny.
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on May 5, 2001
Hilary Mantel has written a small, delightful little book in the novel, Fludd. The title character, Fludd, arrives in the village of Fetherhoughton and , both subtly and drastically, changes things at a crucial time for the local priest, Father Angwin, and the Catholic Church. This is background for a wonderfully eccentric group of characters that charm their way through the book. I initially picked up the book because of an interest in the historical Robert Fludd, the alchemist, but discovered that it was the quirky denizens of this village that captured my heart and were the driving force behind the book.
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on January 30, 2014
I am on my third reading.I keep buying used books and many have notes in the book. One of the critics noted that every time she reads it,she finds something new.I agree. I am on my third reading and my third copy as I sent the others to friends whom I knew would enjoy the book.It is sad and humorous and touching and just fine in every way. I had already read "Wolf Hall " when I saw "Fludd" on Amazon. As another critic says this book , along with previous work establishes Hilary Mantel as one of the best writers in the UK in the present day. This is a small but not to be missed book.
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on December 5, 2011
I read this in paperback about 10 years ago and tho' I had forgotten details, I still remember it as one of my favorite books. I cannot find my copy for a reread and I'm glad to see it's available for Kindle. To keep it short: I can definitely recommend this book.
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on February 12, 2015
Well written by a master of the written work. You are immediately cast into the era and identify with the characters and location. Ms. Mantel is an expert with and of the written word. As such, scenes are expertly portrayed and characters developed. The story is played out and from the beginning a mystery develops, both building powerfully to the inevitable ending. You will not regret reading this book. I only wish that it was longer.
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