Book Review: Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel
I finally finished Wolf Hall, a historical fiction novel set during the reign of Henry VIII in 16th century England. I’ve read other historical fiction novels from the same time period, The Other Boleyn Girl, by Philippa Gregory for example, but Wolf Hall was entirely different. Here is a description of the book, courtesy of amazon.com:
England in the 1520s is a heartbeat from disaster. If the king dies without a male heir, the country could be destroyed by civil war. Henry VIII wants to annul his marriage of twenty years and marry Anne Boleyn. The pope and most of Europe opposes him. Into this impasse steps Thomas Cromwell: a wholly original man, a charmer and a bully, both idealist and opportunist, astute in reading people, and implacable in his ambition. But Henry is volatile: one day tender, one day murderous. Cromwell helps him break the opposition, but what will be the price of his triumph?
What I liked about the book:
The story is told from the viewpoint of Thomas Cromwell, who I found likable and interesting. His rise from poverty to his position beside a king was fascinating. While he was often reminded of his low birth, Cromwell overcame the disdain of his peers and succeeded in becoming Henry VIII’s most trusted advisor. It was Thomas Cromwell who paved the way for Henry’s divorce from Catherine of Aragon, and he stepped on many toes to accomplish that goal. I found the book easy to read even if not entirely engaging.
What I disliked:
The book was long. Turning the pages was easy because it was well written, but it felt more like homework than a story to sink into at the end of the day. The reader really doesn’t get an intimate view of the characters and it was difficult at times to keep track of them all. The author must have anticipated this because she includes a Cast of Characters at the beginning of the novel. I referred to it often at first, but after a while, I didn’t bother. I never became emotionally attached to any of the characters and part of that was due to the style in which the book was written. Present tense should feel immediate and intimate, but this felt awkward and confusing. I’ve seen other reviewers complain about this, particularly due to constant use of unattributed pronouns. Who is speaking? Trust me, it was often hard to distinguish, further complicated by the fact that it was hard to care.
I rate this book as a 3 out of 5 stars, or it was okay. I generally like historical fiction so I found Wolf Hall interesting, but not engaging. Read it for a fresh look into the mind of Thomas Cromwell and a piece of history from his point of view.