Sunday, February 23, 2020

Wolf Hall: Hilary Mantel


Wolf Hall follows Thomas Cromwell from his youth to his role as an important adviser to King Henry VIII. The main emphasis is on the period when the king wanted to marry Anne Boleyn and annul his marriage to Catherine of Aragon, a solution that the Catholic Church would not agree to.

Hilary Mantel presents an alternative to other characterizations of Thomas Cromwell in fiction. This quote is from the review at the Historical Novels.info site:
King Henry VIII's adviser Thomas Cromwell has long been one of history's villains. Wolf Hall reconsiders the verdict. This densely packed, long and witty novel, portrays him as a man of intellect, daring, practicality, ambition, humor and – here's the surprise – kindness and affection. It works. The portrait is psychologically rich and well supported with historical detail.
I cannot describe the book overall any better than that.


MY THOUGHTS

Wolf Hall was the first book I read in 2020. First I must say that I liked this book very, very much and will soon be reading the second book in the trilogy, because some of my comments here may not sound that way.

How this novel is experienced probably depends on how much you know about the life of Thomas Cromwell and historical events centered around Henry VIII and his six wives. I have read books set at this time and watched movies on the subject over the years, but still I don't remember that much about this period in history and Thomas Cromwell specifically. I am well aware of Anne Boleyn's story, but I was hazy on the order of the wives of Henry VIII, their fates, and was not really quite sure how Cromwell fit into this. For my enjoyment of the book, this was mostly a good thing. I could read most of the story without the feeling that I knew the outcome.

There is a huge cast of characters which was necessary but can be quite confusing. There is a list of the "Cast of Characters" and family trees for the Tudors and the Yorkist Claimants, which helped a bit, but having to refer back and forth was distracting. On the other hand, I now have a much better picture of the court at this time and the way people lived, at various levels in society.

This book was not an easy read for me and there were elements of the author's writing style that I did not like. The story is written from Thomas Cromwell's point of view but in third person present tense. Throughout the book, whenever a scene included multiple males, I had problems with understanding who "he" was referring to, and whether it was referring to Thomas Cromwell. I  read multiple reviews commenting on this problem. I thought it was just me. But the author must have been doing something right, because I was pulled into the story from the beginning. A good bit of the writing was beautiful, just breathtaking.

Moira at Clothes in Books has done multiple posts on Wolf Hall and the second book in the trilogy, Bring Up the Bodies. See two of them here and here.

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Publisher:   Picador, 2010 (orig. publ. 2009)
Length:       604 pages
Format:      Trade paperback
Series:       Thomas Cromwell Trilogy #1
Setting:      England
Genre:       Historical Fiction
Source:      On my TBR pile for five years.

18 comments:

Katrina said...

I know of a few people who gave up on this book fairly early on as they couldn't get into her writing style, but it's definitely worthwhile persevering with it. I loved it and Bring Up the Bodies, I'm so looking forward to The Mirror and the Light being published. I think it's probably far easier for Brits to read as most of us will have grown up with a fair knowledge of what went on at the court of Henry VIII.

TracyK said...

I agree with you, Katrina. Well worth the effort. You are probably right about Brits having an easier time with it, too. Although in some ways I liked not knowing some of the background.

Margot Kinberg said...

One of the things I loved about this books, Tracy, is that Mantel really places the reader in time and context; yet, it's not overdone. Yes, I got a real sense of the times, etc, but I also got quite a feel for the characters, too. Of course, a book like this does have its share of speculation, but it all felt believable to me, if that makes sense. I'm glad to hear you enjoyed it, too.

Rick Robinson said...

I caught a few episodes of this when it ran on PBS.

TracyK said...

Margot, I very much enjoyed reading Mantel's version what Cromwell's family life was like and how he ran his household.

TracyK said...

Rick, the reason I was motivated to read this recently was that we want to watch the TV series. But that also includes the 2nd book in the trilogy, which is why I will be reading that book soon.

joan.kyler said...

I'm one of the drop-outs with Wolf Hall. I had the same trouble keeping characters clear that you and many had. I refuse to work that hard for what I consider to be bad writing. It's the author's job to tell us a story, not for us to puzzle out what / who she's writing about.

R.T. said...

I started and stopped several times because of the style but later finished and liked the book. I’m still procrastinating on the other two in the trilogy. Perhaps your fine posting will motivate me.
Best wishes from the Gulf coast...
https://crimesdetectivesandmysteries.blogspot.com/

TracyK said...

Joan, I understand your decision to give up on the book, I saw that there were a good number of readers at Goodreads that had a similar reaction. Especially at 600 pages. I got so involved with the story that I did not want to give up, and I was glad I read this interpretation of Thomas Cromwell, although who knows the truth. It is good to hear from you, hope all is going well with you.

TracyK said...

R.T., Glad to hear that you liked the books after giving it several tries. This is one of those trilogies that ends with a cliffhanger of sorts (although the story is fulfilling as it is), which I find irritating usually, but fortunately in this case I can continue on without having to wait for publication of the second one. I will definitely read the second one (soon) but haven't yet decided about the third book because of the length (nearly 800 pages).

Bill Selnes said...

Tracy K: Your review prompted me to look back 10 years to my own review. As with virtually every reader I was irritated with her style. I did enjoy the book. What I had forgotten is how my review focused on Cromwell's immense skills as a lawyer. He combined counselor and advocate and legal draftsman. Few lawyers in history have matched his talent as a lawyer.

I have not read the second book. Your review has made me think about getting a copy.

TracyK said...

Bill, I went and read your review and it is a wonderful evaluation of Cromwell's skills as a lawyer within the context of the events covered in this book. I find Thomas Cromwell a fascinating person. I even bought a biography of Cromwell (very very long) which I will hold off reading at least until after I read the second book.

col2910 said...

I'm not sure if I picked up a copy of this one or not. I can't imagine rushing towards it, but I'd probably enjoy it if I ever did. Probably one for when I have some time off work. I hope you enjoy the other books in the series.

TracyK said...

Col, I do think you will enjoy this book if you ever read it. It was quite challenging for me but so interesting that I am eager to get started on the second one.

Clothes in Books said...

Thanks for the shoutout Tracy, and I'm glad you enjoyed the book overall even if some aspects were annoying! As you know, I loved both books, and I am SO excited about the new book coming out next week. I will start reading it on the day of publication...

TracyK said...

Moira, I am sure I was motivated to buy the book by all your praise for both books. But why I waited so long to read it, I don't know. But I am very glad I did. Any problems I had with the writing style were far overshadowed by the story and characterization. I plan to read Bring up the Bodies in March, although I have a good number of books "scheduled" in the same month.

Davida Chazan (The Chocolate Lady) said...

Well... I'm still not convinced I want to read these, but I did like the TV series.

TracyK said...

I am glad to hear that, Davida. We have plans to get a copy of the TV series as soon as I finish the 2nd book.