Books · Literature · Novels · Opinion · Reviews

Dissolution

By C. J. Sansom

It is November 1537 and in the time of the reformation a vicious winter has already already set in, when lawyer Matthew Shardlake is summoned by the Vicar General, Lord Cromwell. Cromwell is overseeing the dissolution of the monasteries of England, for King Henry VIII.

Shardlake is sent by Cromwell as the King’s commissioner to the monastery of St. Donatus at Scarnsea, on the coast by the South Downs and the English channel. Matthew Shardlake’s primary task is not, however, the dissolution of that monastery. He has been sent to investigate the murder of the commissioner Shardlake would succeed, Mark Singleton.

When Shardlake arrives at the monastery, he finds it holds almost twice as many servants as monks. The monks live comfortable lives within their walls, compared to the inhabitants of the nearby village of Scarnsea. Each week the monks provide “dole” to the poorest of Scarnsea. This dole is small amounts of food and money, a pittance compared to how the monks live and the wealth of the monastery.

The monastery is lead by a fairly ineffectual abbot. The running of the monastery of St. Donatus is, effectively, by Brother Mortimus, the Prior, and Brother Edwig, the Bursar. It is soon obvious there is no love lost between these two brothers. They both have something to hide, but then so do the other senior officials of the monastery.

Dissolution is the second book I’ve read by Sansome. The first, Lamentation, was selected by the book club. Dissolution was my own choice, having seen the quality of writing in Lamentation. That I chose a book by the same author, when the first was not my own choice, shows my appreciation for Sansom’s writing. I found dissolution to be an absorbing story, an interesting peek into monastic life in the 16th century.

“The Bible says God made man in his own image but
I think we make and remake him, in whatever image
happens to suit our shifting needs.” – Matthew Shardlake.

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