Sunday, March 27, 2011

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

Book:  Wolf Hall 

Author:  Hilary Mantel 

Grade:  B+ 

Recommended To:  Historical Fiction Fans who want a new perspective.  

This book is a Tudor Era historical fiction from the perspective of Thomas Cromwell, who rises to be the foremost adviser to King Henry during the reign of Anne Boelyn as queen.  I learned quite a bit from this book, I had no idea, for example, that Cromwell wasn't noble.

Hilary Mantel has won a ton of awards for this book and it is clear that the award givers were on the right track with this novel.  I haven't read anything from Thomas Cromwell's perspective and it is a truly unique picture of the King, his relationship with Anne, and all of the incredible politics Cromwell mastered to essentially create an entirely new church, the Church of England. 

The book begins with Cromwell's childhood and ends when Thomas More, a hold out for the Catholic Church is beheaded.  In most historical accounts, Cromwell and his mentor Wolsey are painted as the absolute bad guy.  There isn't any room in those accounts for a humanization of Cromwell or Wolsey, but this is exactly what Mantel does so well.  She creates a portrait of Cromwell that makes him seem decent; he takes in various wards and gives them a start in the world, he serves the King unceasingly, and he is portrayed as one of the most intelligent men of the time period.

The one unfortunate part of this book is that Mantel chose to write this book in second person. What? What editor was like "oh, hey, that's not confusing at all!"  It is all he, he, he, throughout the entire book and it is often difficult to keep track of which 'he' is speaking, thinking, or acting.  It took me an extremely long time to get used to this writing style and even 600 pages later, I still had trouble keeping track.  It was distracting and I'm not sure that writing the book this way actually lent anything to the story. 

Otherwise, it was an extremely thorough and well-done novel.  I recommend it to anyone looking for a fresh perspective on England in the 1500's.  I gave this book a B+ because despite the writing style, it was truly excellent.  You should read it.  All 604 pages of it.

Happy Reading!!

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