Released: April 2009
Publisher: Fourth Estate
Genre: Historical Fiction
Length: 559 Pages
My Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Wolf Hall has been on my raider for a while now. How could it not be? Mantel has garnered so much success from her Thomas Cromwell series, having won two Manbookers and shortlisted twice for the Women’s Prize. You can’t really get better praise than that.
She’s the name that’s on everyones lips at the moment and seeing the excitement for the third and final installment made me want to join in. So I finally picked up a copy and gave it a try myself.
Tudor England. Henry VIII is on the throne and he was a divorce so he can marry Anne Boleyn. This piece of well known history is told from the eyes of the formidable Thomas Cromwell, the son of a blacksmith who rose into the being the most influential member of Henry VIII’s court.
This is a very accurately fictionalised account of the divorce of Henry VIII and Katherine of Aragon, told from the eyes of Thomas Cromwell. It feels as factual as any non-fiction but by it being fiction Hilary is able to give the reader the feeling of being in the moment rather than looking back.
It’s like most books. Unless you’re really interested in the subject, in this case the Tudors, then I’m not sure you’d enjoy this book. I also think some prior knowlege of the Tudors is necessary to actually understand the story. Or at least have google at hand because it does get confusing.
There are a lot of characters. So much so that there’s a ‘cast list’ at the beginning of the book in case you get lost, which is pretty much inevitable. A big contributer to this is that everyone pretty much had the same names. There’s at least five different Thomas’s, Henry’s, Anne’s, Mary’s and Richard’s.
Confusion aside Thomas Cromwell is person we spend the most time with. Hilary describes the perspective of this book as being a camera on Cromwell’s shoulder and it definitely feels that way, like we’re viewing the action first hand through him.
I’ve read a bit about this time period, most recently Alison Weir’s biography The Six Wives of Henry VIII and the picture that I got of him from that is totally different to how Mantel chooses to portray him. In history he’s been viewed as a villain but Mantel’s choice of beginning this book with Cromwell being beaten by his father sets the motions for making him a more sympathetic and heroic figure.
I also really enjoyed Anne Boleyn. I’ve always found her so interesting and any time she popped up on the page in this she really stole the scene.
Another source of confusion at times was Mantel’s choice of structure. I actually went back and forth between the audiobook and the physical book for this one because of how lost I sometimes became but I was eventually able to figure it out and get sweeped up in the words.
The confusion came from it not always being clear to me who was being talked about, and the lack of distinction between what was dialect and what wasn’t definitely made it a hard read. I found myself having to backtrack a couple of times to try and grasp what was happening to who.
Saying that though the writing style, once I got used to it, was astounding. In a story full of betrayal and lies Mantel was able to add such touching and humane moments that really made me feel for the characters.
“He kissed the infants fluffy skull and said, I shall be as tender to you as my father was not to me. For what is the point of breeding children if each generation does not improve on what went before. “– Hilary Mantel, Wolf Hall
Would I Read Again? Yes
Would I Recommend? If you’re interested in the Tudor period, yes.