Mark's Reviews > Wolf Hall

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
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's review
Mar 28, 2010

it was amazing
bookshelves: fiction, historical-fiction
Read from March 05 to 22, 2010 , read count: 1

** spoiler alert ** A winner of the Man Booker prize, Wolf Hall should be read by anyone with even a passing interest in the politics or history of Tudor England. Even if you thought you were familiar with the times, and especially if you think you had enough of beheadings and royal marital drama, you will enjoy this book. As Mantel claims for her book, "the whole over-familiar Tudor world defamiliarises at once."

More biography than anything else, Wolf Hall follows the rise of Thomas Cromwell, "fixer" for Henry VIII. Here Cromwell is sought by the powerful, first Cardinal Wolsey then Henry. Cromwell is beloved by his household, feared by his enemies and irresistible to the reader. A master in his field, he is to Tudor politics and Reformation-era business what James Bond is to espionage, Tiger Woods to golf, Warren Buffet to stock picking, etc. The book entertains thoroughly. Smarter people than I have found fault, but you won't be disappointed.

The title refers to the family seat of the Seymours, whose daughter Jane was to become Henry's third wife. None of the book's events occurs in Wolf Hall, and Jane appears only as a minor character in her capacity as lady-in-waiting to Anne Boleyn, Henry's second wife. Only some bad behavior of Jane's father Edward with his daughter-in-law is described as taking place at Wolf Hall. So the title may be a reference to illicit relationships. Those of Henry VIII form the basis for much of the action, of course. Even Cromwell has a relationship with his dead wife's married sister, who is a member of his household. Another possibility is that the title refers to the Latin saying "man is wolf to man." Predatory behavior is illustrated throughout. Execution was the preferred political tactic for both offense and defense.

If you do read the book, you should be aware of one quirk. All the action in the book takes place from the vantage point of Cromwell. It is not written in the first person, but the pronoun 'he' when describing some character's reaction to an event or action almost always refers to Cromwell. It's disorienting at first. The character who is the subject of a paragraph is not the one whom 'he' refers to, even in the same paragraph. But once you get used to the usage, it becomes second nature.

This was the most entertaining book I've read in a very long time.

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