Andy's Reviews > Wolf Hall

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
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's review
Dec 07, 11

it was amazing
bookshelves: historical-fiction, fiction
Read in November, 2011

The story of a few years in the life of Thomas Cromwell, a major historical figure in 16th century England who served as counselor and right-hand man first to Thomas Wolsey, Lord Chancellor, and later to King Henry VIII himself. The book is not driven by a singly specific story or event, but carves out some interesting years in English history and imagines them through Cromwell's eyes. The period covered includes Anne Boleyn's rise to the throne, the Act of Supremacy, and the rise and fall of Thomas More.

What author Hilary Mantel does best is to immerse and saturate the reader in a vivid depiction of the intrigues of the Tudor court. Cromwell is portrayed as an immensely capable, clever, and thoughtful man who manages to get involved with pretty much everyone's business (in fact one mild complaint I have is that he appears at times to be a nearly infallible superman). He has the confidence of the royal inner circle but as someone of common background does not lose touch with merchants, artisans, and ordinary folk. Mantel uses him to let the reader peer into both courtly life and the lives of the English people. She really soaks you in historical details and color and personality, and it is a delight to let it all wash over you. She also lends depth to her characters rather than casting them as strictly heroes or villains: Henry and Wolsey are both sometimes likable and sometimes irritating, More is sanctimonious and cruel but honest and principled to the end, Anne I would have to say is a bit one-dimensionally Machiavellian but is foiled by her kinder sister Mary.

The details and the intrigues are everything, and to some degree I found this detracted from the book in the end. Aside from the thematic touchstone of Britain as an "occult" place of monsters and legends, to which Mantel refers from time to time, there is little that draws the book into a forceful conclusion, point, or idea. If the raw history weren't so enjoyable to read, I might have found this to be a serious problem; as it stands, it's more of a blemish, leaving me feeling that I was dropped off at an arbitrary point at the book's end. One other problem, this one stylistic and more of a nuisance than a real flaw, is that Mantel is sometimes maddeningly vague with her pronouns and the way she writes out conversation, making it hard to figure out who said or did what.

I'd recommend Wolf Hall to anyone, especially to history buffs.

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Comments (showing 1-3 of 3) (3 new)

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message 1: by Joshua (new)

Joshua NOTE: I wrote this review on your review yesterday, but forgot to press the "POST" button

As someone who got 3 hours of sleep last night, I could not read more than a few sentences of what appears to be a thorough, articulate review.

message 2: by Joshua (new)

Joshua Oh man! I thought you were Andy Bauch. I've made a point of commenting on Andy Bauch's reviews.

Andy Ha! I'm merely disguised as Andy Bauch, I guess.

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