Saturday, 6 October 2012

Book Review: Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

“It is all very well planning what you will do in six months, what you will do in a year, but it’s no good at all if you don’t have a plan for tomorrow.”

- Cromwell

Wolf Hall is the brilliantly written novel by Hilary Mantel and has sat in my “to read” pile for a long period, waiting. Just the size of the book daunted me, so I continued to pick up shorter novels before finally committing to the long haul read. Funnily enough, the book is so well written I found myself reading through the chapters effortlessly and before I knew it, I had finished.

Wolf Hall is set during the reign of King Henry VIII but is really a story about the rise of Thomas Cromwell, from blacksmith’s son to the Kings right hand man. Mantel introduces us to the many layers that make up “Thomas Cromwell”; the devoted family man who wants nothing more than to give his family everything he didn’t have, as well as having a deep affection for animals, particularly small dogs who he continues to name “Bella” after a small dog he had as a child and going out of his way for those less fortunate in society. Typically, Thomas Cromwell and Thomas More tend to be painted as power hungry zealots in most Tudor fictions and you can’t help but dislike them. Even Mantel managed to capture this trait in More and I found it impossible to like the man at all, my skin crawled each time More popped into the scene.  Cromwell on the other hand is far more personable, Mantel including characters from his blood kin and adopted family, turning the once villain into the ingenious lawyer he really was with an honest and surprisingly hard upbringing.

As with most Tudor fictions; this novel also incorporates the usual suspects of the time including the Cardinal Wolsey, Anne Boleyn and her sister Mary, Katherine of Aragon and her daughter the Princess Mary,  Jane Seymour, Thomas Wyatt, the Lords Norfolk and Suffolk and the author was true to their characters, even down to the demure Jane Seymour. Like most Tudor enthusiasts, we’re familiar with the King Henry VIII/Anne Boleyn relationship which bought about the downfall of Holy See in England and revolutionised religious belief at the time. It was refreshing that the focus of the story stemmed away from the “familiar” King Henry VIII/Anne Boleyn stories to something “unfamiliar”, the story of Thomas Cromwell who was without a doubt, crucial in shaping England and revolutionizing its laws.

Hands down, Wolf Hall is without a doubt, my favourite Tudor fiction to date and I could almost kick myself for having chosen all those smaller books to read before finally picking it up. The book flowed effortlessly and the description of Tudor England was expertly told as though Mantel had been there, I could easily believe that this was the real story of Thomas Cromwell. For anyone who has a passion for the period, I couldn’t recommend this novel enough, it’s absolutely brilliant!

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