Skip to main content

Review: Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel


When I first received my copy of this book, I was a little daunted by it. I’d hear it was “literary”—whatever that means—plus, it’s written in the present tense, which I usually detest in a novel. But the more I read this book, the more I liked it. It’s really hard to do this kind of expansive novel justice, so I’m going to try my best to describe why I liked it so much.

Wolf Hall is the story of Thomas Cromwell, lawyer and diplomat, who spent many years in the service of Henry VIII, eventually helping the king secure his divorce from Katherine of Aragon. Everyone with even a passing knowledge of English history knows the story of Henry and his six wives, and the dissolution of his marriage to Katherine of Aragon; and countless novels have been written about him. For a long time I was all “Tudored” out, because all fiction about the period seemed to be derivative. Wolf Hall breaks the mold by not being another bodice-ripper/romance, and telling Henry’s story from a different perspective. Its subject matter is a little more serious, but not so much that it drags the story down.

It’s a well-written novel; and though the politics of the time period are confusing, Mantel presents them in a way that would interest even the casual reader. I’d never known much about Cromwell, and it was intriguing to me to read a fictional account of him. I also found his sarcasm and cynicism wonderful—and amazing, for someone living and working with Henry (and I also loved Cromwell’s nicknames for people; he calls the princess Mary “the talking shrimp” and Thomas Wriothsley “”Call me Risley”).

It’s a slow read; it took me the better part of a week to complete, but in the end the effort was worth it. For a novel that’s focused on someone whose entire life focused on the king, the king appears surprisingly little. It’s this unusual approach to the Tudors that makes this such an appealing novel. Mantel’s excessive use of pronouns can be confusing, though you can probably assume that most of the time “he” refers to Cromwell himself. Also, I didn't really understand the significance of the title, since Wolf Hall doesn't play much of a role in this book. Still, this was the kind of book that I couldn’t stop reading; the kind of book that really gets you engrossed in a time and place.

Also reviewed by: The Literate Housewife, As Usual, I Need More Bookshelves, Medieval Bookworm, Tanzanite's Shelf, Shelf Love

Comments

Jen said…
I have a hold on this at the library and I'm really excited to read it, thanks for the review!
nishitak said…
Thanks for the review, it gives a good picture of what to expect from the book. I definitely look forward to reading it :)
Sounds great; I love getting completely wrapped up in a novel.
Gwendolyn B. said…
I'm looking forward to spending some time with this book! Thanks for your thoughts.
Alyce said…
I've been wondering about this one. I added it to my wish list after reading the description somewhere. Sometimes the books that I have to put a little more effort into are the ones I end up appreciating more. It's nice to hear that it's engrossing.
S. Krishna said…
I can't wait to read this one. Thanks for the review.
I'm so glad I read your review before diving in, simply because your hint about "he" usually referring to Cromwell has helped me keep my head straight.

I'm somewhere just past page 300 and agree that it's a very engaging read!
I'm about halfway through right now, and I really enjoyed reading your review. You had many of the same observations I'm making - the confusing pronouns, the different perspective... It's a relief to read that you found the investment of time worthwhile, because it DOES take time to get through. I've enjoyed what I've read so far, and now I can rest easy that it will all pay off!
Micaella Lopez said…
Took a while to get in to it (in fact, I started it several times), but well worth it when I gave it chance. Very interesting, moving, unexpectedly funny and quite beautifully written. I finished it and immediately bought the sequel, which I am now 1/3 the way through.

Howel NJ house cleaning site info

Popular posts from this blog

Review: Forever Amber, by Kathleen Winsor

Pages: 972 Originally published: 1944 My edition: 2000 (Chicago Review Press) How I acquired my copy: Amazon.com, 2004

Forever Amber takes place in the 1660s, immediately follwing Charles II's ("the Merry Monarch") return of the Stuarts to the English throne. The book features Amber St. Claire, a young woman who starts out as a sixteen-year-old country girl, naieve to the workings of the world. She immediately meets Bruce Carlton, a dashing young Cavalier, with whom she has a passionate love affair in choppy intervals throughout the book. They have two children together, but Bruce won't marry her for the reason he tells his friend Lord Almsbury: that Amber just isn't the kind of woman one marries.

Upon following Bruce to London, he goes to Virginia, leaving her to fend for herself. What follows is a series of affairs and four marriages, with Bruce coming back from America now and then. Amber's marriages are imprudent: her first husband is a gambler, her second is…

Review: Jane Austen's Letters, ed. by Deirdre Le Faye

Pages: 667 Original date of publication: 2011 My copy: 2011 (Oxford University Press) Why I decided to read: How I acquired my copy: Amazon.com, April 2013
This is a compilation of many of Jane Austen’s letters, most of them sent to her sister Cassandra between 1796 and 1817, the year of her death. Although many of Austen’s letters were destroyed by her sister in order to preserve the family reputation, the collection contains over 160 letters in which Austen gives her sister details about her life in Chawton—as well as giving us a tantalizing glimpse of what was going through her mind as she was writing her novels (especially the novel that was to become Pride and Prejudice, First Impressions). There are other letters here, too, giving advice to her niece and professional correspondence to publishers—as well as a couple of letters that were written by Cassandra Austen after Jane’s death.
To the sisters, the letters acted in the way that phone calls do today; Austen’s news is all about pe…

Review: Midnight in Peking, by Paul French

Pages: 259 Original date of publication: 2013 My copy: 2013 (Penguin) Why I decided to read: How I acquired my copy: Phoenix bookstore, May 2013
In January 1937, the body of a young British girl, Pamela Werner, was found near Peking’s Fox Tower. Although two detectives, one British and the other Chinese, spent months on the case, the case was never solved completely, and the case was forgotten in the wake of the invasion of the Japanese. Frustrated, Pamela’s father, a former diplomat, tried to solve the crime. His investigation took him into the underbelly of Peking society and uncovered a secret that was worse than anything he could have imagined.
At first, I thought that this would be a pretty straightforward retelling of a true crime, but what Paul French (who spent seven years researching the story) reveals in this book is much more than that. Foreign society in Peking in the 1930s was stratified, with the British colonials at the top and the White Russian refugees at the bottom, but…