Thursday, June 3, 2010

Book Review -- Wolf Hall

Wolf Hall Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel


My rating: 4 of 5 stars







Henry VIII needs an heir – he needs Katherine of Aragon out and wants Anne Boleyn in. It’s up to Thomas Cromwell to figure out how to make it happen.

Thus begins the tumult of the English reformation.

Reams of paper have been devoted to this historical time period. I have not read much of it other than what was required in high school and college. But Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall, makes this chaotic and violent event, modern and fresh.

She has brought to life characters lost to history books. Thomas Cromwell could walk off the page and become a modern day lobbyist or presidential advisor. Henry and Anne could be the precursor to Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton (or any other dysfunctional reality TV couple). He could also be a distant caricature of Elvis – a man of immense talent and judgment, but loses himself in gluttony and the influence of his advisors.

The brilliance of Mantel’s book is her dialogue. Never have I read a book where the dialogue was so rich, authentic, shrewd and, ultimately, witty. She has created living, breathing, individuals who seem as modern as the news in today’s paper. I would reach the end of a sentence or paragraph and often gasp, “Wow.”

The downfall to this book is the immense character list.  I guess every mother in the 16th century was fond of the name THOMAS. It proved complicated to keep them all straight. The majority of the time, she used the personal pronoun, HE, to refer exclusively to Thomas Cromwell. But even that was hard to follow. Additionally, the Suffolks , Norfolks, Richmonds – any number of suffixes added to a name was difficult to place.

Ultimately, this was an historically rich and engaging book, for Anglophile and novice alike.

Sensitive reader:  There is some foul language (including the F bomb), but it is few and far between.

Book Source:  Personal copy

(This portrait of Thomas Cromwell by portrait artist Hans Holbein was mentioned often in the novel.)