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.