Riku Sayuj's Reviews > Wolf Hall

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
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Feb 14, 14

bookshelves: booker-winners, history-europe, r-r-rs
Read from September 15 to 21, 2012


I treat this novel as a qualified failure of an experiment (qualified since I am open to the possibility that the failure was mine) and I sincerely wish that Mantel does not win the Booker this year - I just cannot bring myself to spend anymore time with her lifeless narrator.

More than anything else Wolf Hall seemed to me to be a literary experiment - on how closely a woman can get into a man's mind, and as far as I am concerned, a qualified failure. I could never truly feel that the narration was being executed by a male voice, it was as if a woman narrator residing inside a captive male character was telling the story and every time a ‘he’ or 'his' comes along, it resulted in a string of confused stumblings over adjectives before I remembered again (many times) that it is of himself that the narrator is talking about. Eventually I came to understand the reason for this jarring feeling - it was not because I was not reading thoroughly enough, it was because I couldn't think of the narrator as a ‘he’ - it just didn't cut it, especially when he/she informed me with wonder of how men embrace other men.

I wish Mary Boleyn had been the narrator, she was the only 'real' person in this narrative peopled by artificial characters, only she had an authentic voice to me and I can't help but feel that she was the character that Mantel most identified with - the novel came alive and took such vibrancy every time Mary entered the narrator's field of vision, like a deprived woman lighting up at the sight of a beautiful mirror to finally examine herself!

As I said, I am open to the fact that my bad experience was due to a failure of imagination on my part, so I hope fans of this book will take pity on my deprived pleasure and be gentle in their recriminations.

Come to think of it I really cannot think of any book I have read in which a novelist tries to get so intimate with the mind of a narrator of the opposite sex. So maybe my problem was not a failure of imagination but a poverty of literary experience as I haven't encountered such an effort before; maybe I need to read some Hardy.

I also believe that if there were less 'Thomas's in the story, I could have still come out the better in this expedition. So there.

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Comments (showing 1-50 of 59) (59 new)


message 1: by Tanuj (new)

Tanuj Solanki I'm mischievously happy to see a bad fiction review from your side.


Richard Reviles Censorship Always in All Ways *quiet applause for fear of waking the Troll Legions*

I didn't like it, either.


Clif Hostetler You were kind enough to like my review even though our ratings of the book differed. These are the sorts of differences that make life interesting.


message 4: by Mohit (last edited Sep 22, 2012 11:26AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Mohit Parikh Please just tell me that the opening scene with his father was pulsating? Just kidding.

FYI - there are rules, her own, on ascribing the 'he's. She follows them strictly and it is never confusing once they are identified.


message 5: by Riku (last edited Sep 23, 2012 06:48AM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Riku Sayuj Mohit wrote: "Please just tell me that the opening scene with his father was pulsating? Just kidding.

FYI - there are rules, her own, on ascribing the 'he's. She follows them strictly and it is never confusing..."


I agree about the rules, but that didn't make it any more fun.

The opening scene felt like swimming in a cliched pool from which I was hoping to come out dripping into the real sunshine of an original novel - luckily that happened to an extent, even though it still felt too dickensian till he really grew up.

For me, there were just too many experiments in the book and none of them were required by the matter being presented, making them all superfluous in my eyes - they didn't help the narrative, so, no matter how clever they were, they fell flat. I might give Mantel 5 stars for her inventive genius, but I can't say that the book was the better for it.


Riku Sayuj Tanuj wrote: "I'm mischievously happy to see a bad fiction review from your side."

I try so hard to love every book I read... guess that makes me a pansy in literary circles :(


Riku Sayuj Richard wrote: "*quiet applause for fear of waking the Troll Legions*

I didn't like it, either."


Thanks Richard. Your solidarity will be remembered.

Clif wrote: "You were kind enough to like my review even though our ratings of the book differed. These are the sorts of differences that make life interesting."

I enjoyed your review for the fascination with history that seemed to drive your reading pleasure - it left me wondering why the history was rarely in the foreground for me even though the period was one of the reasons I wanted to read this book.


Mohit Parikh Riku wrote: "Mohit wrote: "Please just tell me that the opening scene with his father was pulsating? Just kidding.

FYI - there are rules, her own, on ascribing the 'he's. She follows them strictly and it is n..."


It is not an experiment in style. The format is organic and done-before. Trust me on this: I have written 40k words in a similar fashion.


message 9: by Riku (last edited Sep 23, 2012 06:40AM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Riku Sayuj Mohit wrote: "Riku wrote: "Mohit wrote: "Please just tell me that the opening scene with his father was pulsating? Just kidding.

FYI - there are rules, her own, on ascribing the 'he's. She follows them strictl..."


which fashion?

in any case, my point is that i appreciate any format more when the subject dictates the use rather than when it seems imposed on the subject, which seemed to be the case throughout this one.

i hope i will enjoy yours more! :)


Richard Reviles Censorship Always in All Ways Riku, I have this complaint a lot of the time. The style is used to tell stories that the style doesn't enhance so often now that I'm simply clamming up about the subject. I get frowned at and trolled when I don't.

Ulysses is a silly, show-offy book, but the style, the stream of consciousness, is the *only* way Joyce had to tell that specific story. Likewise Faulkner in his works, Woolf in hers. (Most of the time, anyway.)

Oh well. I was just so pleased to find someone saying what I thought! Thanks!


message 11: by Riku (new) - rated it 2 stars

Riku Sayuj Richard wrote: "Riku, I have this complaint a lot of the time. The style is used to tell stories that the style doesn't enhance so often now that I'm simply clamming up about the subject. I get frowned at and trol..."

I am sure Joyce chose his story to suit his style, but it was integral and we have to defer to the choice... i guess.

I do wonder sometimes what these great novelists would look like if stripped off literary augmentations - like judging models in swimsuits in beauty contests:

How would you stand up to the rest if stripped down to bare essentials? I suspect a dickens, a dumas, a dafoe or a scott might turn out to be the winner.


Richard Reviles Censorship Always in All Ways We part company on Dickens.


message 13: by Riku (new) - rated it 2 stars

Riku Sayuj that was due...


message 14: by Richard (new) - added it

Richard It is difficult but not impossible for a writer to get into the head of a protagonist of the opposite gender. One feels from reading your review that Mantel should have tried harder or not tried at all.


message 15: by Riku (new) - rated it 2 stars

Riku Sayuj Richard wrote: "It is difficult but not impossible for a writer to get into the head of a protagonist of the opposite gender. One feels from reading your review that Mantel should have tried harder or not tried at..."

She could have told the same story from Mary's pov... that might even have given it a sense of mystery and intrigue. But then it would have been just another tudor novel.


message 16: by Tanuj (new)

Tanuj Solanki I've read a glowing review of these books by Mantel on The New Yorker, which says something about her writing a period piece in a manner that is relatively recent to fiction. They seem to mention this thing as a plus.

But hey, I get Riku's complaint. I had similar issues with Mario Vargas Llosa in 'The Feast of the Goat'. While he had a big villain - in Trujillo - and a pulsating story, his style was too 'modern' and too 'prone-to-consciousness' :)


message 17: by Riku (new) - rated it 2 stars

Riku Sayuj Tanuj wrote: "But hey, I get Riku's complaint. I had similar issues with Mario Vargas Llosa in 'The Feast of the Goat'. While he had a big villain - in Trujillo - and a pulsating story, his style was too 'modern' and too 'prone-to-consciousness' :)"

love that usage!

The tools of telling should be in the background, and hum along like an efficient engine - make the engine as modern and hi-tech as you want, but don't plop it in the passenger lobby (especially in the business class section!).


message 18: by Mohit (last edited Sep 23, 2012 11:47AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Mohit Parikh re: Mary Boleyn as the central protagonist.
She couldn't have, perhaps, for it would have taken away the primary motivation for writing this tome. I remember her mentioning that while attending a lecture on him in a graduation class she decided that one day she would write a novel with Thomas Cromwell as a 'hero'.

In defense of Mantel's style.
How else do you rewrite a man like Thomas Cromwell but in those spaces between dialogues... when he frames a politically correct response, when he avoids an argument with a joke, when he interprets the king's dream - telling him what he would like to hear, when he dares to grab the king's arm to press on his advice; when he discerns what people wear inside their clothes, on their skins - the masks; when he catches the flick of an eye, the fleeting lines on a forehead, the simper on king's mistress... and remembers who-is-what and who, to them, he is?

May be the failing is in the characterization. She has made history mythical, created larger-than-life characters, pulp-ed the genre, in Cromwell she may have chosen a hero who appears flat, unfailing; but she is tremendously acute when it comes to lending a voice to him. Riku, I will disagree than the voice isn't manly.

The tools, really, are in the background. The fact that they are distracting is a repercussion of soc writing, she couldn't have helped it. Present Tense makes the matter worse; but again I see all the choices as organic, once she decided to retold the story from Cromwell's pov, focusing on his fateful power games.

Riku, I completely agree though that once the work is stripped of its literary augmentations there is a little to impress. But then is it fair to compare Tarantino with Bergman on similar grounds?

I think what makes me love this work is Mantel's boldness, and that I appreciate as someone learning to write. In that sense, I have vested interests in defending her :)


message 19: by Riku (last edited Sep 23, 2012 11:49AM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Riku Sayuj Mohit wrote: "re: Mary Boleyn as the central protagonist.
She couldn't have for it would have taken away the primary motivation for writing this tome. I remember her mentioning that while attending a lecture on..."


All the things that you seem to appreciate are also the things that seemed put-on and inorganic to me. I appreciate the boldness but not the execution. As for the limitations of the technique, I don't feel inclined to forgive based on that alone - a truly great novelist would either make the chosen technique work completely or choose a better technique.

Considering my reservations, I would probably read this book again, as a student, but with an eye for understanding what not to do to the potential reader.

I know I am being overly critical, but maybe you could point me towards any of the other authors who used similar techniques and impressed you before you came to this... you did mention in a earlier comment that the book is not experimental and that all the tools are tried and tested ones...


Mohit Parikh I love all Modernists. Try 'To the Lighthouse', though it is much superior in every which way.


message 21: by mark (new)

mark monday Riku, you pansy.


Mohit wrote: "Riku, I completely agree though that once the work is stripped of its literary augmentations there is a little to impress. But then is it fair to compare Tarantino with Bergman on similar grounds?"

interesting!


message 22: by Riku (new) - rated it 2 stars

Riku Sayuj mark wrote: "Riku, you pansy."

-- Hangs head in shame.

mark wrote: "Mohit wrote: "Riku, I completely agree though that once the work is stripped of its literary augmentations there is a little to impress. But then is it fair to compare Tarantino with Bergman on similar grounds?"

interesting! "


About the comparison, it would be admirable only if that was the stated purpose of the work. In this case, the novel, by its nature and by its blurbs, does make a case for itself to be not clasified as a literary artifact. Most of the experimental works are literary artifacts whose main pleasure is the exhibition of its wares (I bring Raymond Queneau to the witness box to examine his intentions)


Shovelmonkey1 Richard wrote: "*quiet applause for fear of waking the Troll Legions*

I didn't like it, either."


Nor me. I tried I really did and a lot of people told me it was the best thing since sliced anything. I failed to find the love... and to complete it.


message 24: by Paul (new) - rated it 4 stars

Paul For a woman author brilliantly writing into the mind of a (horrible) man, What I Lived for by Joyce carol Oates is gobsmacking

http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/...

Men write as women all the time. I think authors should be able to cross-dress and transgender as they see fit, according to their talents; and we readers too.

I notice Ulysses was described as silly in this thread. Megalomaniac, yes, but silly, no.


message 25: by Riku (new) - rated it 2 stars

Riku Sayuj Paul wrote: "For a woman author brilliantly writing into the mind of a (horrible) man, What I Lived for by Joyce carol Oates is gobsmacking

http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/...

Men write as women all ..."


They should be allowed to. To say they should be 'able' to... well I don't know.

silly could well be a synonym for megalomania for practical purposes :) I don't share the sentiment though...


message 26: by Jenn(ifer) (new)

Jenn(ifer) So there. Ha!


message 27: by Riku (new) - rated it 2 stars

Riku Sayuj Jenn(ifer) wrote: "So there. Ha!"

:) yup


message 28: by Jenn(ifer) (new)

Jenn(ifer) I love a good "so there!" :)


message 29: by Lewis (new) - rated it 1 star

Lewis Weinstein You found even more reasons to dislike this book. For me, it was a book written to please to author and not the readers, and it was ghastly.


message 30: by Riku (new) - rated it 2 stars

Riku Sayuj Lewis wrote: "You found even more reasons to dislike this book. For me, it was a book written to please to author and not the readers, and it was ghastly."

That old stick they beat us with.


message 31: by Brittany B. (last edited Nov 11, 2012 12:33AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Brittany B. Oh no, you must be extra peeved that the sequel won the Booker this year as well...

Im a crazy historical fiction buff (the books usually written by women), so I am sure I'll love it.

But I'm also reading an extraordinary biographical novel on Henry VIII by Margaret George. She writes it in first person from his POV. I think she does a great job writing his narrative. Have you read it? What do think!?


message 32: by Lewis (new) - rated it 1 star

Lewis Weinstein "The Autobiography of Henry VIII: With Notes by His Fool, Will Somers" was the thoroughly enjoyable book that gave me the idea to write historical fiction, a thought which led eventually to The Heretic.


message 33: by Riku (new) - rated it 2 stars

Riku Sayuj Brittany B. wrote: "Oh no, you must be extra peeved that the sequel won the Booker this year as well...

Im a crazy historical fiction buff (the books usually written by women), so I am sure I'll love it.

But I'm a..."


Not so peeved. :) Maybe I'll like it on the second round... No. I haven't read that one, will try it and update here.


message 34: by Riku (new) - rated it 2 stars

Riku Sayuj Lewis wrote: ""The Autobiography of Henry VIII: With Notes by His Fool, Will Somers" was the thoroughly enjoyable book that gave me the idea to write historical fiction, a thought which led eventually to The Her..."

How do I earn a free epub?


message 35: by Riku (new) - rated it 2 stars

Riku Sayuj Riku wrote: "Lewis wrote: ""The Autobiography of Henry VIII: With Notes by His Fool, Will Somers" was the thoroughly enjoyable book that gave me the idea to write historical fiction, a thought which led eventually to The Her..."

How do I earn a free epub? "


Typical! ;)


message 36: by Riku (new) - rated it 2 stars

Riku Sayuj Jenn(ifer) wrote: "I love a good "so there!" :)"

I love brownie points!


Nigie Try reading Ian McEwen's Sweet Tooth. You'll know what I mean when you finish it...


message 38: by Riku (new) - rated it 2 stars

Riku Sayuj Nigie wrote: "Try reading Ian McEwen's Sweet Tooth. You'll know what I mean when you finish it..."

You could give a hint :)


Nigie I'd ruin the book for you if I did!


message 40: by Riku (new) - rated it 2 stars

Riku Sayuj Nigie wrote: "I'd ruin the book for you if I did!"

would be my first McEwen...


Nigie He's clever: On Chesil Beach is better (I see it in your 'to-reads'), you may want to try it first.


message 42: by Riku (new) - rated it 2 stars

Riku Sayuj Nigie wrote: "He's clever: On Chesil Beach is better (I see it in your 'to-reads'), you may want to try it first."

I see you gave it a three star... are there spoilers in the review?


Nigie No, I don't spoil!


Nigie But I can tell you without damaging your enjoyment of Sweet Tooth that the reason I suggest it for you is about writing in the voice of the opposite sex, but with a twist...


message 45: by Riku (new) - rated it 2 stars

Riku Sayuj Nigie wrote: "But I can tell you without damaging your enjoyment of Sweet Tooth that the reason I suggest it for you is about writing in the voice of the opposite sex, but with a twist..."

Yes. I got that. Might pick it up soon. Let us see what the twist is :)


message 46: by Lisa (new) - rated it 3 stars

Lisa The Henry VIII by Margaret George is probably my favorite Tudor book! Please give it a try! Her other books (excepting Cleopatra) were also good, but not as great :)


message 47: by Lewis (new) - rated it 1 star

Lewis Weinstein Lisa wrote: "The Henry VIII by Margaret George is probably my favorite Tudor book! Please give it a try! Her other books (excepting Cleopatra) were also good, but not as great :)"

The Autobiography of Henry VIII was the book that inspired me to write historical fiction.


message 48: by Riku (new) - rated it 2 stars

Riku Sayuj Lewis wrote: "Lisa wrote: "The Henry VIII by Margaret George is probably my favorite Tudor book! Please give it a try! Her other books (excepting Cleopatra) were also good, but not as great :)"

The Autobiograph..."


got a copy recently. thanks for the recco!


message 49: by Matt (new) - rated it 5 stars

Matt Brady Though Wolf Hall is one of my favourite books, your review is really interesting and insightful


message 50: by Riku (new) - rated it 2 stars

Riku Sayuj Matt wrote: "Though Wolf Hall is one of my favourite books, your review is really interesting and insightful"

Thanks, Matt. I will reread this before I get to the sequel someday. Hopefully my opinion will change on this one too.


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