Thursday, 17 February 2011

Wolf Hall

A long haul, reading Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel, but I'm glad I persevered.  It deals with most of Thomas Cromwell's life ending, rather to my surprise, after the execution of Thomas More in 1535 with Anne Boleyn still on the throne as Henry's second Queen.  Wolf Hall is actually the name of the Seymours' house which hardly features in the novel - but HM feels it's an apt name for Henry VIII's court. Apt indeed.  It's hard to reconcile the artistic achievements of the age with, for example, executions for treason and the frequent burning of heretics at the stake especially those who wanted to read the Bible in English. I hadn't quite taken in that such 'heretics' were racked and burned on the orders of the great Thomas More.This novel redresses the balance in favour of Thomas Cromwell, who is usually depicted as a calculating villain in dramatisations, particularly, as far as I remember, A Man for All Seasons.
At the beginning of the novel, fortunately, we are given a list of the numerous characters. Obviously one wouldn't forget people like the King and his Queens, but I found I needed the memory check for some of the others.
The novel is told in the present tense, which I don't always care for, but have to admit that it added immediacy. One felt one was there in Tudor times in Cromwell's house, and that the characters didn't know what was going to happen next even if you, the reader, did. But what did irritate me was the fact that the author almost always referred to Cromwell as 'he', rather than by his name, so one had to keep reading back to see which 'he' she meant. This quirk, plus all the characters and time-changes - and my general exhaustion with pup at present - contributed to making this 650-page epic a slow read. But I admire the author's tour de force and indeed I ended up much admiring Thomas Cromwell, a blacksmith's son who rose to high offices of state.  Will I read the sequel, yes I will, even though I know it will end badly.
Here's a Guardian review.


Debs Carr said...

I have this book on my Kindle, but am only a couple of chapters into it. I am enjoying it and when I catch up with all the other books I've promised to read, I can't wait to carry on and enjoy the rest of it.

LindyLouMac said...

I am still undecided even after your excellent review.

Susie Vereker said...

Gd luck, Debs.
LLM, I don't read many historical novels and didn't intend to read this one, but as I acquired it for free, I thought I'd give it a try. It was heavy going at first and I skipped the odd page, but it grew on me once I stepped into the Tudor world.

Anonymous said...

I was soon drawn in and hooked as well. Will definitely read the sequel - just hope Hilary Mantel is feeling well enough to be writing it.

Elizabeth Chadwick said...

This was a slog for me but I did enjoy it. However, my next read was a Janet Evanovich. I couldn't have managed anything heavier.
I loved the layers in this novel and the wonderful use of language. Mantel reminds me of the late, great Dorothy Dunnett in that respect. I did think the structure could have been tighter. There were boundaries, but the road was wide and the narrative sometimes lurched along it like a drunk.
Still, it makes certain other authors with work set in the Tudor period look like little girls with colouring books.

Susie Vereker said...

Agree, Susan. Sometimes you feel HM could have left out some of the minor characters in what seemed like a chaotic world. But a much more realistic Tudor world than any I've encountered before.