Monday, November 14, 2011

Review: Wolf Hall

Wolf Hall

From "Wolf Hall," by Hilary Mantel:

Open quote's all very well planning what you will do in six months, what you will do in a year, but it's no good at all if you don't have a plan for tomorrow."

After the jump, my review.

Grade: A-

This novel follows the rise of Thomas Cromwell, a blacksmith's son, to his place as the most trusted adviser to the King of England. All the characters are here, great and small: Cardinal Wolsey, Thomas More, Henry VIII, Katharine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn, dukes and duchesses, bishops and cardinals, heretics and saints. If you are a fan of medieval historical drama like "Becket," "The Lion in Winter," and "A Man for All Seasons," then don't miss "Wolf Hall."

The novel has smart dialog and court intrigue worthy of any of those predecessors. The author's research pays off for the reader with fascinating little details about what the characters are doing while they entertain us with their witty conversation: sewing or ripping out old sewing (nothing goes to waste); presenting an apple out of season as a way of gaining trust; recycling the stubs of candles in the Tower cell after the prisoner is removed for execution; tipping the executioner to ensure a quick death; even speculating on the mummified remains of small animals that must be in the walls of their even-then centuries-old rooms.

The long novel moves quickly, doesn't rehash the scenes we're already so familiar with from other novels and movies, and leaves off well before Thomas Cromwell's own career is over. A sequel is supposedly promised. I eagerly anticipate reading it, too.

A word of warning before others buy this book on my recommendation: it's long and it's full of characters with the same names or with names and titles and the pronoun "he" that are used interchangeably. It helps to have some prior familiarity with Tudor history. Most importantly, it's FICTION. If you like to think of "A Man For All Seasons" as history, not historical fiction, then you'll probably be upset by the different treatment Thomas More, for one, receives in "Wolf Hall."


Mark Steger said...

Coincidentally, today the New York Times published this item in its Arts Beat blog: Hilary Mantel to Write ‘Wolf Hall’ Sequel.

Matthew Selwyn said...

I'd agree with your closing note, a lot of people will find this hard going.

Personally though, I was of the same opinion as you, a really wonderful book! The Tudor England that Mantel portrays in all its brutality is fascinating and Cromwell's character is so beautifully drawn that one really warms him, despite his evident flaws.

My review: Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel