The Memoirs of Christopher Columbus by Stephen Marlowe - review by Hilary Mantel

Hilary Mantel

When in doubt, move

The Memoirs of Christopher Columbus


Jonathan Cape 581pp £10.95 order from our bookshop

IRONY COMES EASY to the dead, who are blessed with both hindsight and foresight; or at least to those of the dead who take an interest. Christopher Columbus, from his perch in the afterlife, has cast a critical eye on his own career, on his contemporaries, his biographers, and the modern world. He is fortunate to have found, in Stephen Marlowe, a ghostwriter of awesome competence and stamina.

Columbus has a motto: When in doubt, move. He has a theory too, that 'history is mostly a toss of the dice.' In fact, if Holy Week and Passover had not coincided in the year of his birth, 'someone else would have become the most fa mous man in the world.' Modesty is not amongst his attributes. 'I was', he tells us, in the light of later events, ‘the worst thing that happened to Italy until Mussolini.'

He was not born in Italy, but in Spain, to a family of 'New Christians' - which is to say that he has a Jewish momma. 'That the Messiah had already come she found disappointing. There was nothing to look forward to.' He has an ugly brother, Barto, whose warts drop off the morning after he has

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