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Archive: Other Books > “Wolf Hall” by Hilary Mantel (5 stars and a skip, hop and a jump)

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message 1: by KateNZ (new)

KateNZ | 2679 comments Cross posted to Decathlon reporting (May) - Booker Prize shortlist

Thomas Cromwell is usually portrayed as an archetypal villain - the man who rose from low birth to become Henry VIII’s right hand man, not caring who he had to dispose of along the way. In particular, he’s blamed for the martyrdom of Thomas More, who lost his head after failing to swear the oath supporting Henry as head of the church in England and Ann Boleyn as Queen.

But history is told through the eyes of those who write it, with their own political or social motivations and preferences. Hilary Mantel has gone back to primary sources where possible (or to new scholarship about Cromwell) and has forged a very different and wholly compelling portrait of him: brilliant in law, language and numbers; a family man who is fiercely loyal to those he loves and who has to cope with tragedy upon tragedy at home; a ridiculously hard worker; a fast friend with a wry sense of humour and fast wit; a respected enemy; someone who stands his ground without showing fear against the establishment (the King himself and the nobles of the court and church); the man who tried everything to save Thomas More and others from a grisly and undeserved end.

The story is brilliantly written - it’s told almost entirely in the present tense which gives it a dramatic immediacy. Cromwell is viewed from without, a third person ‘he’, as if by a fly on the wall observer. There’s a lot of dialogue and a large cast of characters whom it can be hard to keep straight, but who form a rich and compelling picture of the time and the personalities with whom Cromwell has to wrestle. Thomas More’s penchant for persecuting his ecclesiastical opponents isn’t overlooked - he is often sympathetic but is not the one-dimensional saint that he is often made out to be.

Henry comes out well (better and smarter than expected); Ann is a nasty piece of work. But nobody is a stereotype - even minor characters like the family or the Emperor’s ambassador or Hans Holbein are real people. The political machinations are fascinating. For anyone with a more than passing interest in Tudor history, this is a must-read narrative - heavily fictionalised of course but more insightful than most novels set in the period (though I love CJ Sansom’s books as well).

I loved it.

So imagine my surprise and delight when I walked into the Frick Collection two days ago while visiting New York to find Holbein’s hugely famous portraits of More and Cromwell glaring at each other on either side of a fireplace. I had no idea they were there not in London. I actually squawked “Bloody hell, it’s Cromwell” aloud before I could stop myself. Much to the amusement of the woman standing next to me.

message 2: by Susie (new)

Susie | 4488 comments I love it Kate! What timing!

I’ve tried to get through this twice but have found it interminably boring, however I have started to develop a taste for historical fiction that I once didn’t have, and to be honest I feel like a failure for not liking it more! Third time lucky perhaps?

message 3: by Amy (new)

Amy | 9391 comments Our Kate is an outlier. Susie, few people can get through this book. If you want to get a taste for historical fiction, there are a thousand others to recommend that don’t work like melatonin.

message 4: by KateNZ (new)

KateNZ | 2679 comments I’m totally an outlier, I think - I can’t stand the ultra-popular Philippa Gregory books and just want to throw them at the wall, but I adored this. Go figure

message 5: by KateNZ (new)

KateNZ | 2679 comments CJ Sansom is more accessible, I think, Susie. Straight story, well written

message 6: by Tracy (new)

Tracy (tstan) | 1238 comments Amy wrote: "Our Kate is an outlier. Susie, few people can get through this book. If you want to get a taste for historical fiction, there are a thousand others to recommend that don’t work like melatonin."


message 7: by Amy (new)

Amy | 9391 comments And I’m a lover of Philippa Gregory. But I also like Michelle Moran, and a bunch of other historical fiction novelists that I think are really super.

message 8: by Elise (new)

Elise (ellinou) I'm with you, Kate, I loved Wolf Hall and its sequel, and the one Philippa Gregory book I read barely left a mark on my memory so clearly I'm not a big fan!

message 9: by KateNZ (new)

KateNZ | 2679 comments Yay, Ellie - I’m not alone after all!

I definitely want to read ‘Bring up the bodies’ and I think #3 is due out reasonably soon too

message 10: by Ladyslott (new)

Ladyslott | 1880 comments I loved Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies as well.

message 11: by KateNZ (new)

KateNZ | 2679 comments Sounds like we have ourselves a mini reading group when ‘The Mirror and the Light’ finally makes it onto the shelves! I expect to need a very large box of tissues...

message 12: by Ladyslott (new)

Ladyslott | 1880 comments I can’t wait for The Mirror and the Light.

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