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GROUP READS > Wolf Hall

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message 1: by Sandy (last edited Aug 23, 2015 06:13AM) (new)

Sandy | 15609 comments Mod
This is the discussion thread for the Fall 2015 Group Read Wolf Hall. Please post your comments here. This thread is not restricted to those choosing this book for task 20.10, feel free to join in the discussion. Warning- spoilers ahead!

The requirement for task 20.10: You must participate in the book's discussion thread below with at least one post about the contents of the book or your reaction to the book after you have read the book.


message 2: by Lois (new)

Lois | 1843 comments This book I found both way too long and strangely fascinating. The story of Henry VIII, his wives, the Protestant Reformation in England, Thomas More and other historical figures has been told and performed so many times, but the character of Thomas Cromwell hasn’t been the central character in any version that I have read previously. Vaguely, my impression of him was that he was a heartless villain, so I found the humanizing scenes of his home life and his care for his children and extended family, interesting and touching. There were even some gently humorous moments in a book that was filled with the expected painful scenes of torture, executions, religious zealotry, and political scheming.

I was confused enough about the title to check into it a little bit. Wolf Hall was the family seat of the Seymour family. None of this book takes place at Wolf Hall and the Seymours are minor characters in the story. Jane does appear, but Henry is still married to Anne as the story ends. Anyone have ideas about this?


message 3: by Andy (new)

Andy Plonka (plonkaac) | 3364 comments While I thoroughly enjoyed this book, I really need to reread it and pay more attention to the relationships. I am not well versed in English history and even Henry VIII and Cromwell are not yet good friends of mine. I did realize that being the wife of Henry VIII was not a good deal if you couldn't produce a male heir, but I really should reread this to get a better understanding of the characters and their relationships. Taking notes would help also.


message 4: by Ava Catherine (last edited Sep 10, 2015 11:18AM) (new)

Ava Catherine | 1472 comments Ava Catherine

(view spoiler)

Because I read a lot of Tudor history, I enjoyed this new perspective from Thomas Cromwell’s point of view. Sometimes Mantel's pronoun usage is ambiguous which creates confusion and requires some rereading for clarification. I certainly would have appreciated a closer edit.


message 5: by Nick (last edited Sep 09, 2015 03:38PM) (new)

Nick (doily) | 2382 comments Lois wrote: "This book I found both way too long and strangely fascinating. The story of Henry VIII, his wives, the Protestant Reformation in England, Thomas More and other historical figures has been told and..."

From having watched the first three episodes of the PBS series, I gather that at one point, Cromwell himself finds Jane Seymour, well, enticing. He thinks of Wolf Hall as a place he aspires to, maybe? That's all I could get out of why the title was Wolf Hall. But then, I stopped watching the series, thinking I might pick it up again when the DVD comes out. I have not yet read the book, but it is on my tbr for this season.


message 6: by Jennifer (new)

Jennifer WOLFE

Disclaimer: I read pages 301-604 during challenge time due to rule #10.

Rule 10. “Pre-reading: Books longer than 499 pages that were started any time before the beginning of a challenge can be used to fulfill a task if more than half the book is read during the challenge.”

Yes, this book was way long and someone needs to check on antecedents for the pronouns because I wasn't always sure who "he" was referring to.

I'd compare it to Philippa Gregory; I really didn't get into it that much. And I hate to take away from her hard work and research and 5 years spent on a labor of love in literature, etc., but other than it being more from Cromwell's prospective, it's certainly not new and interesting material. I recognized many scenes from The Tudors, etc. It came out in 2007 and she wrote her book for 5 years and it came out in 2009, so I don't know about who had what first, etc. So, I'm assuming some things are well known historical facts, and some things are speculation, etc.

However, Cromwell appears in Shakespeare's Henry VIII back in 1613, so it's kind of old news.

Cromwell kept appearing in my mind as James Frain in the Tudors, which was from 2007. I also had scenes in my mind from Borgia, too. But I haven't seen the Wolf Hall on PBS yet, so I can't compare there.

I can say I read it....I can't say I'll read the next two, though.

And it's pretty creepy to me that the title foreshadows the 3rd wife....


message 7: by Ceelee (new)

Ceelee | 226 comments I am so pleased Wolf Hall is,one of the Group Reads for the Fall Chalkenge! I love books about British history and am looking forward to it. I want to watch the series first so I better get busy! It will probably take me until November 30th to finish it!


message 8: by Nick (new)

Nick (doily) | 2382 comments I have a friend who, a few years back, was rejected for entry as a student of the priesthood in the Episcopal church. As a result, he has become very disillusioned with Christianity, especially Anglican Christianity. Yet he still picked up this book to read because he cannot tear himself away from the subject. After 100 pages or so, he threw the book down in disgust: "What a stupid religion, founded by a King who wanted a divorce! Who needs to hear another version of that?" -- that type of thing.

I debated the question with him, even before I picked this book up (which I finally did for this challenge). From all the hoopla, I knew that Thomas Cromwell was the center of the book, that usually Cromwell was portrayed as somewhat villainous in the story (ala "A Man for All Seasons" which lifts up Thomas More as the martyr of the piece), and that here Cromwell was treated sympathetically. So I could argue those merits, even without having read the book.

Now that I have read the book, I feel I can argue the merits even more. This really is a nice retelling of the story. I always like when villainous characters are made human, and I feel that is what Hilary Mantel did here. I had watched 3 hours of the PBS production last year, and when I read certain scenes in the book, they had a nice familiarity to them. I now think of some of these scenes as "classic" scenes, almost like certain scenes from Shakespeare. One such is the comradery between Cromwell and Anne Boleyn's sister -- the scenes in which they banter with each other have sucha a "homey" quality to them now that I have "viewed" them multiple times -- how can this have not been something from a classic play?

Presenting Cromwell as sympathetic is Mantel's achievement here. His entry and maneuvering in the world of Henry VIII becomes something we can all relate to, the mundane watching of doomed events as they unfold, with little power to do anything except record them and acknowledge them as the human folly they are.


message 9: by Nicola (last edited Sep 21, 2015 02:34PM) (new)

Nicola | 1415 comments I've always enjoyed the Tudor era of English history and I've read a lot of history books. Generally I don't enjoy reading 'historical fiction' all that much if it shows an actual period of history because the writers either clearly don't know what they are talking about or, if they do either run off on a pet theory of their own for certain events or have decided to disregard the known events entirely in favour of plot.

All of which is extremely aggravating to someone who then spends a fair chunk of the book thinking 'no, that never happened' or 'that person wouldn't have done that'. So Wolf Hall was a breath of fresh air; Hilary Mantel takes both her writing and her history seriously; at no point did I think that what she was portraying was wildly inaccurate to the historical record and the characters motivations and personalities were likewise very believable. And it was an enjoyable book. More so for those who like history probably.

Now I want to watch Wolf Hall as the snippets I've seen from YouTube seem great. I couldn't bear more than a few minutes of 'The Tudors' because Henry VIII seemed so appallingly badly cast and inaccurately portrayed but the BBC seems to have done a decent job with this one.

3 1/2 stars


message 10: by Diane (new)

Diane (didi3023) | 12 comments Didi3023: Wolf Hall is beautifully written, complex story written about Tudor England with all the players of the time in place. Hilary Mantel portrays Thomas Cromwell as a politically ambitious, ultra-religious human being who has his own difficult history that provides the reader with some sympathy for his person. I enjoyed the book and am glad I read it but found it to be a somewhat difficult read.


message 11: by Pia (new)

Pia | 1057 comments This is a difficult review for me, as I bought the book ages ago, when it was just published, read a few pages and abandoned it.
When I saw it was one of the group reads for Fall, it was easy to pick it up again, as I already had the book.

Again, I struggled through it, and I'm not really sure why. I started reading, went through a few pages, enjoyed them and then put the book down again for a few days. It took me much longer to read than I normally do.

I have read a few books on the Tudors, the "light" kind, but this one is completely different. The amount of research that has gone into it is incredible, and that is probably what made it hard for me. I felt there was too much information, too many characters, too many pages, too many things going on. More than a work of historical fiction, it felt like a PH D thesis. I also struggled with the use of pronouns in some parts; I had to go back a few pages to see who was speaking.

That said, and even if I found the book complicated, the history of the Tudors is fascinating, and seen from Thomas Cromwell's view makes it even more interesting. I had always pictured him as a villain, so having his life and work presented from a different angle, made the reading completely worth it.

I think I will be reading the complete trilogy.


message 12: by Foxy Grandma (new)

Foxy Grandma (foxygrandma) | 997 comments this was a book that I have started multiple times and not been able to finish. When I saw that it was a group read, I was determined to finish it and I did, but only because it was the only book I had with me while I was waiting on appointments with my grandchild. I have read lots of historical novels but I had a very hard time keeping up with who was who and who did what with this one. I kept finding myself looking back in the book to figure out what was happening in the part I was reading. I am glad I have finished it and it is now in my read file.


message 13: by puppitypup (last edited Nov 03, 2015 11:24AM) (new)

puppitypup | 272 comments Fiction Biography Mixed feelings on this one

I'm not quite sure how to review this one. Ms. Mantel's writing style drives me crazy, I've never seen the like.

She uses simple present tense with the third person perspective, made impossible by the fact that she refuses to use the main character's name. So every sentence from his point of view, and the entire novel is from his point of view, is limited to the pronoun "he."

As you can guess, this causes quite a bit of unnecessary confusion and consternation. I continually found myself re-reading pages after finding out I was focused on the wrong "he." For example, after a sentence where he attends the Bishop, we read "Are you going to dance" he asks him. I still don't know if it was Cromwell or the Bishop doing the asking. This goes on throughout the entire book, incredibly frustrating!

Even when the characters are reflecting on the past, the same simple present tense is used, confusing matters even worse. To be honest, if I hadn't needed this book to meet a reading challenge, I would never have finished it.

And yet, Ms. Mantel's characterizations are effortless and utterly beguiling. I don't think you will find a single flat, two-dimensional character in the whole book, I am awed at the depth given to each person, especially considering the sheer number of actors.

I am one who rates books based on how they make me feel, to what degree my emotions are engaged, and that is another aspect on which this author excels. Within a few pages, a few taciturn conversations, I was wholeheartedly in Cromwell's camp. I stayed up too late last night because I had to know how his story ended, I couldn't let go of the characters.

Unfortunately, it turns out this is only book 1, so I didn't find the answers I was looking for. But that's on me, I should have realized this was a trilogy. Since I'm not a fan of political intrigue, I have here-to-for managed to steer clear of this time in England's history, meaning I still don't know what happened to Cromwell. But there is no way I'm going on to Book 2, that writing style is too much of a hurdle for me. I'm off to Wikipedia next.

Bottom line, Ms. Mantel makes history come alive in this novel, she made me care about the Cromwell family, and she chillingly conveys the precarious nature of serving a capricious king. For that, I am willing to bump my review up to three stars.

For my friends who prefer romance, (view spoiler)

The book has a few bad words and a couple of suggestive foul jokes, no intimate scenes.


message 14: by puppitypup (new)

puppitypup | 272 comments Lois wrote: "This book I found both way too long and strangely fascinating. The story of Henry VIII, his wives, the Protestant Reformation in England, Thomas More and other historical figures has been told and ..."

Lois, I agree, especially since I didn't realize it was a trilogy, as it got later and later in the book, I thought, "But we aren't even to Wolf Hall yet!" Odd choice of title, unless perhaps Cromwell is famously linked to Wolf Hall in the minds of those who know well the history of that era.


message 15: by Bea (new)

Bea | 3815 comments puppitypup, you have written the definitive review for my own reaction to this book. Thank you! The only difference for me is that I will one day pick up book #2 to continue the story; mostly because of how well Ms. Mantel draws her characters. But, I will need to wait a bit as her use of the pronoun "he" nearly drove me nuts until I realized it was a problem. Then I read more slowly and more deliberately.


message 16: by Lindy-Lane (new)

Lindy-Lane (moonbacklit) | 590 comments ambitious to say the least. both the characters political plays and the author's undertaking of the writing of the book.

i've often wondered at the alternative outcomes to the british monarchy, realm, religious prosecutions and establishments of churches, etc. if there had been the awareness in that time period that the lack of a male heir on henry's part was more due to his sperm than the women who he bedded.

found this interview on line that you might enjoy listening to:
http://www.npr.org/player/v2/mediaPla...


message 17: by puppitypup (last edited Nov 12, 2015 11:47PM) (new)

puppitypup | 272 comments I'm still thinking about this book, which probably means I should bump up my rating one more notch.

Does anyone know if Cromwell and Jane Seymour were ever romantically involved? Or just a recent addition to the story to liven up history?


message 18: by Nick (new)

Nick (doily) | 2382 comments puppitypup wrote: "I'm still thinking about this book, which probably means I should bump up my rating one more notch.


Does anyone know if Cromwell and Jane Seymour were ever romantically involved?
Or just a rec..."


I have no idea if Cromwell and Jane Seymour were ever romantically involved. But I think Hilary Mantel has ideas on the subject. This goes to the question of why she entitled her book "Wolf Hall"?

Mantel implies, I think, that Jane Seymour was an icon to Cromwell, an icon of that object of beauty which is longed for, but perhaps always just out of reach. Therefore Wolf Hall, the Seymour estate becomes such a symbol, and, as such, a symbol of Cromwell's ambition to get something his society simply will not let him have.

Or maybe I am being just really imaginative....


message 19: by Allison Ann (new)

Allison Ann | 402 comments I'm enjoying this book but it is a very slow read. I'm also glad to see that I'm not the only one confused as to the title. :)


message 20: by Sam F (new)

Sam F | 205 comments I would agree it's a very slow read - almost a slog - though I feel a sense of accomplishment now that I've finished. I can appreciate Mantel's attention to detail and thoroughness in her research. Many times though I had to restart a section after I had fallen asleep - 2 steps forward, one back! I did love the character, 'Call Me' and the holy maid, though often I was confused with the number of people named Thomas or Mary. Overall historically interesting, but not one I would pick up again.


message 21: by Allison Ann (new)

Allison Ann | 402 comments I'm not sure exactly when it happened, somewhere around page 200 I think - but suddenly this book became wonderfully detailed and interesting instead of dry. I don't think the writing changed and the story didn't really change either, though I think more little things are happening the last 2/3 of the book. I think I just caught the rhythm of the author and now I'm savouring the book instead of slogging through it. :D

This book has made me love Cronwell, a figure in history that I think I was at most indifferent to in the past. I think Mantel must love him too to portray him as such an interesting and complex character striding through such caricatures in the background.

I have about 100 pages left and I've decided that I'm not going to worry about finishing within the time frame, I'm just going to keep enjoying the book. I don't really like having to create a task anyway. ;)


message 22: by EShay (new)

EShay Fagan (eshay11) | 537 comments I'm in the group that thought this book was difficult to get through. I took the whole 3 months to read it! I did find Mantel's Cromwell appealing and found myself rooting for him throughout the novel. I pitied him when he lost half his family and wanted him to move ahead in his standing with Henry, even if I detested Henry himself. I also disliked most of the women in the story for many reasons I do not like women in person... Shallow, self-centered and selfish. I was thinking this novel might not pass the Bechdel test, at least until Elizabeth is born.

I do like historical fiction, but I think its the political intrigues I do not enjoy. I'm in to military story lines and maybe knowing more about events that an omniscient third person narrator would provide. I do not know enough about English history, so I think I will search for some non fiction on the subject.


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