Monday, 30 March 2009

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

DATE PUBLISHED: 2009 DATE READ: March 2009 NOTES: A massive tome! Over 600 pages covering the reign of Henry VIII from the end of his marriage to Katherine to (almost) the end of his marriage to Ann Boleyn. The novel unfolds with Thomas Cromwell as the central character and reveals his rise from a humble background to a position of power and influence in the Tudor court. He is given a back story and much is made of his domestic arrangements. It is very much the humanisation of Cromwell although Mantel subtly reveals his ambition and his greed. The politics of the time are well used. there is a brilliant speech about monasteries made by Cromwell as he wheedles his way into Hanry's confidence. (page 219) By the end of the book Cromwell’s interest has already moved away from Ann and towards Jane Seymour (whose family lives in Wolf Hall) – he is politically astute and is able to remain as the king’s loyal servant by knowing who to support and when. There is much witty dialogue throughout as well as many interesting observations. When Cromwell is told that Thomas More wears a hair shirt and beats himself with a scourge his response is to wonder who actually makes these instruments of torture. William Tyndale features (as a sort of off-stage character) and is dealt with sympathetically. Thomas More is (rightly) shown to be harsh and unbending despite being sincere in his religious beliefs. So why was I not totally bowled over by this book? Probably because it was just so long and took such an age for the narrative to move on – the marriage to Ann only took place after 400 pages! It was an intelligent read but for anyone with an interest in the history of the time Wolf Hall would not really add to their overall knowledge.

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