I have to say that I love all things Tudor, and Wolf Hall is no exception, but it is exceptional. In most of the novels about Henry VIII's England, Cromwell plays a role, but he's never been the main character. Writers most often leave the famous wives of Henry VIII (divorced, beheaded, died; divorced, beheaded, survived) to play that role. And although on the wonderful TV series The Tudors on Showtime, Cromwell plays a major role, it's all about his life at court. In reality, not a lot is known about this person, but Hilary Mantel has woven her tale not only around Cromwell, but through him.
In Wolf Hall, Hilary Mantel takes a slice of Tudor history and allows the reader to view it through the eyes of Thomas Cromwell,. who rose through life from his origins as the son of a blacksmith to become the chief minister of King Henry VIII. From his humble origins, he manages to become an important advisor to the ill-fated Cardinal Wolsey, who, as everyone knows, started his downhill slide because of his inability to provide Henry VIII with a Church-sanctioned divorce from Katherine of Aragon. It is, ironically, Wolsey's fall that begins Cromwell's rise. Cromwell survives by his own maxim: "inch by inch forward. Never mind if he calls you an eel or a worm or a snake. Head down, don't provoke him." (4) His fortune is on the ascendant, throughout the story, but as everyone also knows, fortune is fleeting, and especially in this time, largely at the whim of the king.
Mantel gives Cromwell, who is often vilified in many Tudor history accounts, a human face. While he's busy rewriting life at court to suit his majesty and most often, to suit himself and his own desires for reform, Cromwell also is shown to be a family man and a man with a heart who cares about those less fortunate than himself. Cromwell's present is largely defined through his past, and it is through Cromwell's eyes that the reader watches the Tudor world unfold.
Mantel's characterization is excellent -- Anne Boleyn comes off as a cold, calculating queen wanna-be who will stop at nothing to get her way. Mary Boleyn, the queen's former mistress, is a bit Ophelia-like, capturing Cromwell's sympathy. Mantel's Henry (via Cromwell) is a monarch more concerned about the lack of an heir rather than the tyrant or the woman chaser that many books make him out to be. The side players are also well characterized: aside from Cromwell's family and friends, the various dukes, courtiers, and people of the French Court become very human, often with the veneer of royalty and nobility stripped off to reveal crudity, greed, ambition jealousy and fear. Even some of the "common" people, the subjects of Henry VIII, are portrayed here.
Wolf Hall is simply a masterpiece. Even though it comes in at about 651 pages, it goes quickly as the reader gets caught up in the world Mantel so eloquently creates. I would highly recommend it to anyone interested in Henry VIII and that time period. Readers looking for something along the lines of "The Other Boleyn Girl" won't find it here...this is fiction at its finest.
Absolutely a fantastic read! Though I don't know why the title, because I saw no reference to Wolf Hall until the very end, it makes no difference. I was consumed and enthralled by all 600 pages and so sorry to see it end.
The book is about Thomas Cromwell's life during the reign of Henry VIII's annulment of the marriage to Katherine and subsequent marriage to Anne Boleyn, and the tumultous religous times surrounding these events. Mantel is an extremely gifted writer. Her dialogs are so believable, descriptive, and engrossing that one believes they are really witnessing actual conversations.
I LOVE this era of history and have read alot of historical fiction set in this time period, so it helped me understand the novel and characters alot better than I would have otherwise. Even so, I still was grateful for the Cast of Characters at the beginning, as I referred to it frequently! It is sometimes confusing, at least to me, when a person is referred to by name one time and another by title. Anyway, fabulous reading.
"Wolf Hall" is a novelization of one of the most fascinating and significant periods in English history: the reign of Henry VIII, his wife (but not for long) Catherine and his beloved (but not for long) Anne Boleyn. Told more or less from the point of view of Thomas Cromwell, who rose from assistant to Cardinal Wolsey to highest adviser of the king, we see all the machinations of royalty and commoners alike in a vividly drawn picture of the times. My only problem with the writing of Hilary Mantel is her too frequent use of pronouns rather than proper nouns, thus making it sometimes hard to follow the dialogue and action - who is saying what, who is doing what.
The best researched, most compelling written book I've read in years.
While characters might be a little hard to keep track of, this is a great read. Don't miss it.