Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

Wolf Hall

A little over a year ago I decided that I was going to give up reading Tudor novels.I love the period, but I had read so many over the years that they were too familiar, it was too easy for me to pick up things that weren’t quite right, assumptions that jarred.

But then came Wolf Hall. Written by Hilary Mantel, who I know to be a wonderful writer. My resolution wavered. The book was acclaimed, longlisted for the Booker Prize, and swiftly installed as favourite. So when Wolf Hall appeared on the new books shelf in the library, what could I do? I brought it home!

The viewpoint intrigued me too. The man at the centre of the story is Thomas Cromwell, a man who would rise from humble beginnings to become first Cardinal Wolsey’s right-hand man and then Henry VIII’s first minister. And this is his story, but it is also the so familiar story of Henry VIII and his divorce from Catherine of Aragon, marriage to Anne Boleyn and the resulting split with Rome.

Hilary Mantel’s prose is as lovely as ever and she paints a wonderful picture of this world, of the people who live in it and of their relationships.

Cromwell is an interesting central character and his family life was beautifully portrayed to create a portrait of a fully rounded human being. His evolving relationships with Cardinal Wolsey and with Thomas More are well drawn too, and fascinating to read.

And Catherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn came to life for me as real, understandable women so much more vividly than ever before.

Many details, of course, are historical fact, but where the author filled in the details and the background she did it just beautifully, and nothing jarred with me at all.

There is much background and many details, making Wolf Hall a very long book that will swallow up a great deal of time. But I am definitely pleased that I picked it up and it took me into a world that I really didn’t want to leave.

16 responses

    • This is a very well balanced book. It’s a shame so many historical novels are tilted so far towards romance, because there are some really great stories with much wider appeal to be retold.

  1. A couple of months ago I read my first Tudor era book. Unfortunately, it had paranormal characters in it that turned me off the book. But it did make me want to know more about the people of the time period, espcecially Thomas Cromwell and Henry VIII. I don’t know if this is the right book for that or not, but one of these days I’m going to read more of this time period.

    • There’s more than enough story without any paranormal creatures. Wolf Hall is a great book, but maybe one to read when you know a reasonable amount already. For this period I’d particularly recommend the Autobiography of Henry VIII by Margaret George.

  2. I think I have the same problem as you with the Tudor period. I know so much about it that it is no longer interesting to me. I’m pleased that this book managed to avoid that problem for you, but the writing was just too much for me – I couldn’t get into this book at all. I’m sure it will win the Booker prize this year though.

    • The Tudors have been done to death, but this appealed as a much more human story than most. In many ways I would love Hilary Mantel to win the Booker, but I’d sooner she won for one of her works of pure imagination. I haven’t checked the list, but I don’t remember too many novels closely based on real history winning. We shall see!

  3. I don’t really like historical novels and it’s so loooong…it’s not the sort I would ever pick up. However, if it wins the Booker and I read enough positive reviews, such as yours, I might just give it a go. My flatmate loves a bit of Philippa Gregory (not saying that Hilary Mantel is in the same league but it’s all Tudor!) so maybe I’ll make her buy it then I can borrow it!

    • Nice book acquiring tactics! I would say that this is a book with much broader appeal than most historical novells – I see it more as a human story that happens to be set in a certain era.

  4. I have not read any Tudor period novels either – but this sounds like a good one to try. I have read several reviews of Wolf Hall across the blogosphere, and they are all quite favorable.

  5. I’m on the library list for this one. I’ve not read anything by Hilary Mantel, but I’ve heard good things about her and this book in particular. I love books you’re sad to leave at the end!

  6. Jane, I have broken down and ordered it from the BookDepository because several readers whose opinions I respect (present company included) have said that it’s excellent, and some said it’s the best book they’ve read this year. Couldn’t wait for it to be issued in Canada or to line up at the library!

  7. Pingback: Semicolon » Blog Archive » Saturday Review of Books: September 12, 2009

  8. Pingback: Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel « Page247

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