Wolf Hall [Paperback]
- HarperCollins Publishers
- Publication Date:
- 27 February 2010
- Historical Fiction
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This book is a masterpiece of historical fiction, probably the best book I've read this year, and it replaces <i>The Glass Room</i> as my favorite of the 2009 Booker Prize longlisted and shortlisted books.The novel starts spectacularly, as a young Thomas Cromwell is being beaten nearly to death by his blacksmith father:<i>"So now, get up."Felled, dazed, silent, he has fallen; knocked full length on the cobbles of the yard. His head turns sideways; his eyes are turned inward towards the gate, as if someone might arrive to help him out. One blow, properly placed, could kill him now.</i>Cromwell remains the major character of the novel, as he escapes the wrath of his father, and rises from his humble beginnings to attain fame and fortune abroad in Italy. He becomes the trusted adviser to the powerful Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, who himself is King Henry VIII's right hand man.As the second part of the novel opens, Henry is seeking permission from the Pope to divorce his first wife Katherine, who has yet to bear him a son despite nearly 20 years of marriage. He has his eye on the young Anne Boleyn, whose ego, ambitions and deviousness extend beyond the kingdom and are masterfully portrayed throughout the book. Wolsey fails in his task to have the king's marriage annulled, and is expelled from his lavish residence. Somehow, Cromwell manages to retain loyalty to the cardinal while positioning himself to make himself indispensable to Henry and avoiding the hostile plans of the king's other chief advisers, most notably Thomas More, Thomas Howard and Charles Brandon. Despite the devastating loss of his wife from the sweating sickness epidemic of 1528, and his beloved daughter in the following summer's plague, Cromwell's influence grows, as he also skillfully aligns himself to Anne and the Boleyns while maintaining his own independence and dignity.Due to Cromwell's legal acumen, Parliament grants Henry supremacy over the Church of England, and he becomes the king's chief minister. Henry takes Anne Boleyn as his second wife, but she too is unable to bear him the son that will become the rightful heir to the throne. Dissent spreads throughout and beyond the kingdom, as opponents to the king's rule over the Church and the replacement of the former Queen, including Thomas More, who replaced Wolsey as Lord High Chancellor, are imprisoned and brutally executed.Mantel's ability to place the reader in Tudor England, Henry's court and, most deliciously, Anne Boleyn's company is the most impressive aspect of this novel. A tremendous and essential aid for me was the Cast of Characters at the beginning of the book, which I referred to frequently in the first half of the novel. Wolf Hall clocks in at just over 650 pages, and it somehow seems both larger than that, yet not large enough. It is very readable and quite captivating, especially when taken in 50-100 page leisurely segments. I look forward to giving this another go in the near future, and cannot recommend it highly enough.
Overall a wonderful and thoughtful recreation of a well known story from a new viewpoint. I did find the first-person style somewhat difficult to follow at times and so found the book was better appreciated in small doses. However, each doses was well worth while and it made the book last longer which was very much a good thing. A book to savor and reread I believe.
The title of this Man Booker Prize book is a bit misleading. Wolf Hall is the home of the Seymour family, and while they were quite influential in Henry VIII's reign, I don't remember even one scene being set there. Nor was the book about the Seymours. This is the story of Thomas Cromwell, beginning with his abused childhood, through his vagabond but experience-rich youth when he traveled far from England throughout Europe, fighting for the French, learning several languages, and honing his intellectual and accounting skills. It concentrates on the years 1529 through 1534 (about the end of the Boleyn reign.) After his return to England, Cromwell lands a position in the employ of Cardinal Woolsey. Although he remained loyal and grateful to Woolsey, he managed to distance himself from Woolsey's troubles with Henry by keeping his religious convictions very private--in fact, one is left somewhat unsure even at the end as to what were Cromwell's true beliefs about organized religion. In the meantime, he (Cromwell) is diligent about employing and training young, bright, under-advantaged youths to carry on his work.Before reading this, I did not have many preconceptions of what made Thomas Cromwell tick. Mantel does a superb job of providing us background for his actions, his motivations and his relationships with some of the most powerful people of the era. His relationship with Thomas More is presented as sympathetic, although I felt an almost repugnance for the More portrayed here. Ann Boleyn also comes off rather negatively, but it is fascinating to see Mantel showing us Ann B and Cromwell using each other to get where they wanted to go. And of course, there is his relationship with Henry himself. Mantel's Cromwell seems to be able to tell H the VIII the blunt truth with considerable impunity, and thus is often recruited by other nobles to be the bearer of not good tidings.Finally, I was enthralled by the portrayal of Ann's sister Mary Boleyn. Was she gullible, vulnerable and used? Or conniving, sly, and manipulating?This book is long, but written to move right along. I listened to the audio version which was exceptionally well done by Simon Slater. It is a book where it is sometimes difficult to tell who is actually speaking, and Slater's intonation certainly helps sort that out. The descriptions of living conditions, dress, manners, and customs are all richly elaborated, and Mantel uses just enough vernacular to make it truly authentic without making it difficult to follow. 5 Stars.
loved it. the characters were well developed, the plot well crafted. really enjoyed the ending.
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