Winner of the Man Booker Prize 2009 'Lock Cromwell in a deep dungeon in the morning,' says Thomas More, 'and when you come back that night he'll be sitting on a plush cushion eating larks' tongues, and all the gaolers will owe him money.' England, the 1520s.
Henry VIII is on the throne, but has no heir. Cardinal Wolsey is his chief advisor, charged with securing the divorce the pope refuses to grant.
Into this atmosphere of distrust and need comes Thomas Cromwell, first as Wolsey's clerk, and later his successor.
Cromwell is a wholly original man: the son of a brutal blacksmith, a political genius, a briber, a charmer, a bully, a man with a delicate and deadly expertise in manipulating people and events.
Ruthless in pursuit of his own interests, he is as ambitious in his wider politics as he is for himself.
His reforming agenda is carried out in the grip of a self-interested parliament and a king who fluctuates between romantic passions and murderous rages.
From one of our finest living writers, Wolf Hall is that very rare thing: a truly great English novel, one that explores the intersection of individual psychology and wider politics. With a vast array of characters, and richly overflowing with incident, it peels back history to show us Tudor England as a half-made society, moulding itself with great passion and suffering and courage.
- Format: Hardback
- Pages: 672 pages, Illustrations
- Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
- Publication Date: 27/09/2012
- Category: Historical fiction
- ISBN: 9780007509775
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Review by passion4reading
This account of Thomas Cromwell's life - one could almost call it a fictitious biography as there's not one scene that he's not a part of - starts when he's a boy, receiving yet another beating at the hands of his father, and ends with Henry's progress in 1535, with Cromwell planning a detour to Wolf Hall, the seat of the Seymour family.This is by far the best of Hilary Mantel's books I've read so far, but I wouldn't recommend it to someone who's unfamiliar with her work; her writing style does need a little getting used to, but after a while it is possible to just read over the ubiquitous 'he' and enjoy the plotting and, especially, the portrayal of individual characters. Everyone in the book comes alive in her capable hands, and some of the characterisations are rather surprising, but feel true nevertheless: Thomas Cromwell as a kind and considerate family man, Henry VIII as a man wracked by insecurities, and Anne Boleyn as a scheming and calculating woman, for example. Hilary Mantel's prose is hauntingly beautiful at times, and the phrases she puts into their mouths (particularly the colourful curses) often made me smile. She manages to evoke the changeable and turbulent times to such a degree that it felt like watching a film, if it hadn't been for the physical action of turning the pages. Impeccably researched, it did feel a little too long (no wonder, at over 600 pages), and one would probably have to read the book several times to pick up every one of her historical references and allegories. Despite its numerous critics, I consider reading it time well spent, and I look forward to Bring Up the Bodies.