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, suffering and courage.
- Format: Paperback
- Pages: 688 pages, Illustrations
- Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
- Publication Date: 27/02/2010
- Category: Historical fiction
- ISBN: 9780007230204
Showing 1 - 5 of 43 reviews.
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Review by charbutton
As a Booker Prize winner, Wolf Hall has received hundreds and hundreds of reviews and much praise. I came to it feeling a little sceptical that a book could deserve such lavish plaudits and having not really enjoyed Beyond Black, the only other Mantel I have read.I was very pleasantly surprised! Wolf Hall is one of the best books I've read for a long time. It follows the story of Thomas Cromwell, a blacksmith's son who raises to the highest position of power in the English Tudor court just below that of king. Cromwell becomes a vital advisor to Henry VIII during his separation from Catherine of Aragon, marriage to Anne Boleyn and break from the Roman Catholic church.While the story is 650 pages long and is told from Cromwell's point of view, although in the third not the first person, I feel like I know very little about his character. To his contemporaries he is a mysterious man and to the reader he is equally inscrutable. A hard-headed man, not afraid to wield his power and able to bear a grudge for a long time, we catch brief glimpses of his grief at the death of his wife and daughters and his loyalty to his mentor Cardinal Wolsey. He also inspires great loyalty in his supporters. But at a time when strongly-held principles and beliefs were of vital importance (often leading to death or great power), Cromwell is strangely apolitical. (For Brits reading this, he feels a bit like a Tudor Peter Mandelson!). Mantel's skill as a writer is that although Cromwell manoevures himself into advantageous positions and is often brutal to his enemies, he is not unlikable.
Review by the.ken.petersen
I am always dubious about this sort of book and, when the blurb says things like, "Brings history to life!", I usually look upon another bookshelf.Wolf Hall had, however, received glowing reviews from people that I respect and, when Amazon offered me the paperback for the ridiculously low price of £3.86 (inc. p&p), I took a mad risk with my fiscal position. I am so glad that I did: this book certainly seems to be well researched - my passing knowledge of Cromwell never questioned the historical accuracy - and brought Henry's court to life in a very real sense. The characters were rounded and individual; right down to bit parts, each person was given their own character: none too over the top and none are black villains or whiter than white heroes.I can't say that 650 pages slipped away without my noticing because this was a meaty read, I struggled to get through a hundred pages in a day (slow for me) but, I always put the book down wanting more. It is one of those reads where one is almost disappointed to reach the end, like leaving an old friend.Well done Hilary Mantel, it is about time that someone balanced the almost entirely negative view of Cromwell. You certainly make a strong case for his being a fairly decent sort of chap, as well as a shrewd facilitator of King Henry's whims.
Review by polarbear123
Phew! That was a long read - A suprisingly dense book with lots of characterisation going on there. We all know the basic story and it was very interesting to hear it told from the point of view of Cromwell. The characters of the time are really brought to life as is the London of the day too. Loads of characters meant that the list of them at the front of the book did come in handy many times. One minor gripe here- The author uses 'he said', 'he replied' etc all the way through - sometimes HE always refers to Cromwell speaking but at tother times it does not so more than once I was confused and had to reread a few lines to get the corect meaning. Nit picking aside - this is well worth a read - if you don't know the story it may be a little to in deoth for you but I at least am looking forward to the sequel!
Review by ianjamison
I've read some of her other work - and really enjoyed Fludd, but was amazed by how very gripping this was. It's an odd sort of historical fiction - sparse descriptions, but lots of time spent on dialogue (both between characters and internal). She writes in very short sentences - it's a sort of Japanese ink painting of a book - a beautiful creation emerges from a few mannered lines. It is almost literally un-put-down-able, and I'm missing it now that it is finished.
Review by adpaton
Who would have imagined that such an engaging and - I hesistate to say it - lightweight [I speak metaphorically, at 400 pages this tome is not light in the slughtest] book could ever have won the Man Booker Prize? Bitter and boring experience with a few previous winners has taught me to shun most literary prize winners but what with all the revived interest in the historical soap opera that was the Tudors, the subject of this book intrigued me. Going back as far as Margaret Irving, then Jean Plaidy, and more recetnly Phillipa Gregory - not to mention the superb Margaret George and Sanson's wonderful Shardlake series - the Tudors in fiction have been one of my favourite subjects. Sex, intrigue, violence, they had it all and I regret to say that the shadey boyfriends and topless toe-sucking exploits of the present British Royal Family simply don't measure up. If they want to be mentioned in the same breath as Henry VIII and the ganf, Charles had better behead Camilla - only his second wife - tout de suite, and make up his own religion to inflict on the Brits. But I digress. The subject of Wolf Hall is Thomas Cromwell who has always been depicted as an ambitious but dour puritan 'yes man'; it was implied that he betrayed his master Wolsey and hated Thomas More, hitching his star to the Protestant wagon and attempting to mow down any - like Katherine of Aragon or her daughter Mary - who might get in the way of the establishment of the new reformed religion. Mantel gives us a rounded asnd altogether more human portrait of Cromwell: she depicts him as being loyal to Wolsey, fair to More, a bigotted and sadistic misogynist, and somewhat sympathetic to Katherine and Mary's sufferings once Henry had cast them off. Anne Boleyn might have counted him amongst her closest advisors but he was never bewitched by her. History tells us Cromwell was executed shortly after being made Earl of Essex, in 1540, but this book is set when he was still in the good graces of the monarch, before the debacle with Anne of Cleeves which caused his downfall, and we see how he rose from poverty to being ther chief minister of Henry VIII, and the friends and enemies he made along the way.It is a dense read, no page turner, and extremely well written: Hilary Mantel has a sure, light touch, and her many fans will be delighted that she is already at work on the sequel to Wolf Hall - let's hope for a series of literary historical novels about some of the most fascinating characters in the entire history setbook.
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