Book Review: Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

Wolf Hall by Hilary MantelTitle: Wolf Hall
Author: Hilary Mantel
Source: Library Copy
Publisher: Picador, 2009
Awards: 2009 Man Booker Award

Wolf Hall is soon to be aired on PBS as a highly anticipated miniseries highlight the scandals of sagas of the Tudor court as Henry VIII tries to annul his marriage to Katherine of Aragon to wed Anne Boleyn.

That is the entire premise of the first book of the Thomas Cromwell Trilogy Hilary Mantel has produced over the last six years. From reading various reviews online, this book has been met with equally vicious and loving reviews. It’s a love-it or hate-it type of book, and I fall into the love-it category. One note, any use of the pronoun “he” more often than not refers to Thomas Cromwell. This writing quirk has a bit tricky to keep up with earlier in the book when there were many men present and active in the chapters. Although once I accustomed myself to this usage, the book had a wonderfully enticing flow that seemingly transported me back to 16th Century. Although I love historical novels and Henry VIII is my favorite monarch, I have not read any historical novels set in this era. I’m glad I started with Wolf Hall. Mantel’s minute descriptions could have been boring, and dragged on. But they did not. They created wonderful visuals in my head of an impatient, intelligent and multi-layered King who wanted a male heir to the throne. While Katherine had been first married to his older brother Arthur, Henry married her upon the death of his brother. Inheriting the queen and the crown at the same time was fine and dandy, but after 20 years with only a single daughter to boast, Henry was ready to move on.

His prime confidant, Cardinal Wolsey, has already fallen out of favor with the king at the start of the book. Wolsey is Cromwell’s entryway into the royal courts and into the royal lives of King Henry, Queen Katherine and Queen-to-be Anne Boleyn. The fall of Wolsey is the rise of Cromwell. I appreciated this unique perspective on such a scandalous time of England’s history. So many of these books are written through the eyes of the royals themselves. It is nice to get an outsider’s view of the royals, although it is still such as intimate as from the Kings, queens and princesses themselves.

Mantel’s research into this era is inspiring. Her understanding of the cultural norms, fashions, religious controversies and policies is educational, and very vividly described. As I said, I felt transported back in time reading this book. It was so engrossing for me. I’ve quickly jumped into book two, Bring Up the Bodies so that I won’t be caught unawares when the mini-series starts on April 5th.

I definitely recommend this book for historical fiction readers. I’m curious to see how the adaptation of book to mini-series will pan out and if Anne Boleyn will have a meatier role in the TV production versus the book. She’s been a pretty silent character in the first book, but then again, the first book isn’t centered on her as queen.

PS

a photo of an open book with writing in it

The book showing inventory number 282 and Gamon’s signature at the bottom© Stephen Haywood. National Trust

© 2015 by Nari of The Novel World. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @TheNovelWorld

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