Wednesday 22 June 2011

CBR3 Book 44. "Wolf Hall" by Hilary Mantel

Publisher: Fourth Estate
Page count: 672 pages
Rating: 4 stars
Date begun: May 23rd, 2011
Date finished: May 30th, 2011

Now regular readers of this blog might be forgiven for thinking that I pretty much exclusively read paranormal fantasy, or romance, or paranormal romance, with the occasional foray into young adult fiction. They would not be wrong. As a teacher, I find it extremely satisfying and diverting to read various types of genre fiction as my main form of relaxation. With teaching, correction work and lesson planning going through my mind, I find I don't have the patience with heavy intellectual tomes a lot of the time.

There are exceptions to the rule, however. I don't think anyone would classify Wolf Hall as light weight (it's a huge brick of a book, for one thing). It won the Man Booker Prize in 2009, and it covers a fairly complex time in history. As a medieaval historian, I love me some Tudors. I wrote essays on them at university. I find Henry VIII and his offspring fascinating. This book chronicles the fall of Henry's advisor, Cardinal Wolsey, and the subsequent rise to power of Thomas Cromwell, the son of a brutal Putney blacksmith who became the king's first minister, and eventually, the first Earl of Essex.

A brilliant statesman, Cromwell steps in when his mentor, Wolsey, loses favour with the king, and helps secure Henry's divorce to Catherine of Aragon and his marriage to Anne Boleyn. He loses his own wife and daughters to the sweating sickness, but keeps rising in the ranks of the court, until he is indispensable to the king and the new queen.

The book is not actually a very difficult read, considering the weighty subject matter. It starts in the late 1520s, when Wolsey is still Henry's chief advisor, and covers the next ten years or so of the Tudor king's reign. Every so often, it flashes back to Cromwell's childhood or early life, and this can get a bit distracting. The book also goes into a little bit too much detail about Cromwell's inner musings on occasion, and drags in parts, but is for the most part, a very entertaining read and gave me a lot more insight into the life of a very important and often overlooked man in English history.

1 comment:

  1. The scope and breadth of this novel is immense. Hilary Mantel sets out to describe a tumultuous period in English history, not by focusing on the main event- Henry and Anne- but by showing the struggle faced by those more behind the scenes. Thomas Cromwell says, late in the book, that worlds are not changed by kings and popes, but by two men sitting at a table, coming to an agreement, or by the exchange of thoughts and ideas across countries. And that is what Mantel seems to believe, too; thus, she does not focus her story on the huge proclamations or big meetings. She shows us Cromwell, alone at his desk, thinking and reminiscing. She details short, almost off-hand conversations between Cromwell and his wonderful family. And then, sometimes, she will give us fascinating debates between Cromwell and Sir Thomas More, the "man for all seasons" who was ruthless in his practices to rid England of heretics.