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by Julia Debski

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Monday, November 25, 2013

Review of Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

Wolf Hall (Thomas Cromwell Trilogy #1)
 by Hilary Mantel


Genre: Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction, British Literature, Politics, Biography (kind of)

Synopsis:  England in the 1520s is a heartbeat from disaster. If the king, Henry VIII, dies without a male heir, the country could be destroyed by civil war. The Tudor King wants to annul his marriage of twenty years and marry Anne Boleyn. The Pope and most of Europe opposes him. Into this impasse steps Thomas Cromwell: a wholly original man, a charmer and a bully, both idealist and oppurtunist, astute in reading people, and implacable in his ambition. But Henry is volatile: one day tender, one day murderous. Cromwell helps him break the opposition, but what will be the price of his triumph?


This book, as well as its sequel Bring Up The Bodies, was recommended to me by a dear relative of mine. In fact, in the week that he recommended it to me, on a Tuesday, it was mentioned to me once a day, for several days straight.  It has also won several awards including the Man Booker prize. So obviously this has to be a fantastic book, right?

Well yes and no. I believe it is a fantastic book to a certain type of reader. If you only enjoy light reading, or do not enjoy history then this book is not for you. Otherwise, I believe anyone can like it, even love it. 

Wolf Hall is a hefty read. It is just over 600 pages, and took me about a week to read. My Most Excellent Year is over 600 pages as well, but I read that book in 4 days. So this is an intensive, heavy read and you have to be willing to commit to it. It also does take a bit before you get hooked in. The thing that really hooks you in is the suspense because even though you know that (spoilers?) Anne Boleyn becomes queen and has a daughter (Queen Elizabeth I) you still find yourself wondering whether Thomas will be able to do what the King asks of him. Another negative attribute I found was the confusing use of pronouns. Cromwell is almost always referred to as "he", rather than by name. However, in order to clarify, nearly everyone else is referred to by name rather than pronouns. Still, it means the reader has to focus while reading in order not to lose track of who is speaking. 

There are parts where the story slows down and one can find themselves a bit bored. Towards the end of the novel, I found myself skipping a paragraph here or there when it came to Thomas More in the Tower and such. (Not really spoilers...) However I was hooked from about page fifty onwards. 

My favorite part of this novel is that it is a detailed telling of Thomas Cromwell's life presented in novel format. It gives us a rare insight into his life, and for those of us who had been taught that Thomas Cromwell was a ruthless bully and an all-around terrible person, this novel proves all that wrong. (Spoilers, I suppose..) He was abused as a child, and seeked to build a family throughout his entire life, taking in those who needed a home and nurturing them and making sure they had good lives. He was intelligent, wise, and even soft at times. I think that this book is a must-read to any one who loves British history, especially the Tudor era. It is a good book to challenge yourself with. I understand why it won the Man Booker prize. I also understand why some may not like it.

I do plan on reading the sequel, but I have some other books to read first, including Netgalley ones.

“[Thomas Cromwell] thinks, I remembered you...but you didn't remember me. You never even saw me coming.”  Hilary Mantel, Wolf Hall

I would certainly recommend this book.

Purchase: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads

Other Books By This Author: Hilary Mantel has written over a dozen books, such as A Place of Greater Safety and Beyond Black, and nearly all are part of the literary and historical fiction genre. They all have high ratings on Goodreads.

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