Wednesday, June 2, 2010

FINAL -- Wolf Hall Wednedays


I can't believe we are done!

Our intimate journey with every Thomas in 16th century England (or so it seemed), Henry, Anne and her ever meddlesome family (those Boleyn's had their hands in everything!)and an additional cast of characters I'm still trying to sort out, has come to an end. But luckily, none of us were beheaded or burned at the stake in the process. It was a great journey, one I couldn't have accomplished with out Leah at Amused by Books or Elise at Once, oh marvelous once. Poor Elise -- she has the Australian version of Wolf Hall which taps out at over 600 pages! The US version is only 530+. Do US publishers think we Yanks can't read that many pages? I'm curious. Needless to say, we've short changed Elise a bit by finishing this week, but I hope she has the determination to see it through to the end.

We hope you enjoy our thoughts and last discussion of Wolf Hall:

1. What did you think of Elizabeth Barton? Her visions and prophecies?

Gerbera Daisy Diaries – One of the things I found most interesting was that at a time when women couldn’t aspire to anything on their own, here was a woman who actually made a name for herself! Anne certainly couldn’t claim that – she needed to sleep with someone to gain recognition. This woman was a 16th century superstar –with a huge following. And was largely left on her own to continue her “preaching” and prophecies, that is until she started to rub Henry and Anne the wrong way. In a sick and twisted way, I was hoping one of her prophecies would come true –just to make them squirm! I also liked when Cromwell was interrogating her and he asked, “Where is Wolsey?” I can’t remember her exact remark (and I didn’t mark it in my book) but it was something about “he is where I left him.” Then one final comment, when Cromwell was going over the list of her last possessions, it lists 4 shillings – and he makes a comment, that she gets to keep that because she has to pay the executioner! Can you imagine?

Amused By Books - I really liked this character. I get that her visions were against the 'new' order and so Anne wanted to get rid of her. I also find it interesting that Cromwell, as it seemed so often in a lot of these situations, tried to give these people many chances to repent and be free. He offered to let her go among the country and say that she was making it all up, and although she remained locked up for, I think another year before actually being executed, eventually she wouldn't let it go and she was. I think it was interesting also because she appeared to be more popular or just as popular as the King. I am sure that pissed him off.

Once Oh Marvelous Once - I found her really interesting. I love the comparison of the then and now. People who make claims such as these today are sanctioned under mental health acts or appear on morning TV but are rarely taken seriously. I love that a woman (!) was able to make such an independent name for herself. I found her predictions really interesting, and also wanted some of them to be true because I am not a real fan of old Henry and Anne!

2. Page 396: “…At the moment of impact, the king’s eyes are open his body braced for the atteint (hit); he takes the blow perfectly, its force absorbed by a body securely armored, moving in the right direction, moving at the right speed. His color does not alter, His voice does not shake.” This is Henry’s reaction to the birth of Princess Elizabeth – any thoughts?

GDD – This was one of the more memorable passages for me. Where Mantel really shows her brilliance. How she uses battle terms -- fighting terms – to show how terrible and tragic it was to have a daughter. Can you imagine a modern day father in a hospital delivery room reacting the same way?? It’s comical to compare! And to know what Henry eventually did to Anne, and to think that this daughter he is taking a “beating” for ruled England for over 40 years – longer than any man, I think, to that point!

ABB - I just find it so fascinating that men, for centuries, assume it was the women's fault that they had female children. That these female children could not be loved as much or could not rule as well. How different society could have been and what a wonderful job his daughter Elizabeth did end up doing running England. I don't know, what an awful stress to put on something they have no control over. Geez Henry!

OOMO - I haven't read this bit yet, but agree with both of you that it is so sad and yet so interesting that women were blamed for the sex of the child. I can see both sides of that situation, women must determine the sex of the child because they carry it! And I find Elizabeth so fascinating, more so than Henry. Good for her being such a powerful and influential ruler!

3. Once Henry divorced Katherine, his daughter with his first wife Mary also seemed to be banished, even though she appeared to have a good relationship with her father. Did this surprise you?

ABB - The whole scene when Cromwell goes and visits the teenage Mary and the new Princess Elizabeth made me very sad. Mary was on a hunger strike and didn't want to be anywhere near the new princess. She had been the princess her entire life and all of a sudden had been usurped. Her dad was still alive. Did he not love her? As far as she was concerned he did. All Anne could produce was another female heir so Mary had more rights to the throne in Mary's eye than Anne did. Cromwell seemed to also really feel for Mary too. I don't know, that whole scene gave me a bad taste for Henry.

GDD – I guess nothing surprises me when it comes to Henry. But honestly, I think it was all Anne. I don’t think he would have sent her so far or so isolated if it hadn’t been for Anne. What was harder for me to deal with was that he split up Katherine and Mary.

OOMO - Again, the way families worked then (royal or otherwise) fascinates me! Surely they loved their children regardless. I agree, I think a lot of the estrangement was Anne's doing (she's a feisty minx isn't she?) and possibly also Catherine's. I do find it sad that she lost all claim to the throne, and subsequently all claim to her father.

4. The only other thing I might be willing to discuss are the last negotiations between Cromwell and More re his oath of succession. I thought Mantel wrote a beautiful “chess match” between all the players trying to persuade, cajole, empower, tempt, More to take this oath – even to cross his fingers! I thought it was brilliant.

GDD – This section of the book was one of my favorites. How easy it would have been for More to say, yes, I take the oath, it’s just words. No one wanted More to die. At one point, Cromwell even asks him if he remembers him at 7 years old – and More says, “you didn’t serve me then?” Just shows how long these two had been associated. They all were between their own “rocks and hard places.” No one had the ability to maneuver out of their positions. Very tragic.

ABB - I agree, this was a great building of tension within the book. More wanted to prove his point and was not going to back down. Cromwell, and Henry and Anne want to show that their new religious order is the right way, whereas More says he has centuries of saints and popes ands religious writings to back him up, they just have the Parliament. More is willing to die for his beliefs - what's more powerful than that?

5. How did you like the ending? Did you think it was fitting?

ABB - I honestly thought it was going to end with the death of Anne! Oh well! Towards the end it definitely did really build towards the death of More and that seemed to be the real point. More's view of religion versus Henry/Cromwell's interpretation. It's just, when you pick up and read an historical fiction book and expect it to end one way it just kind of surprised me.

GDD – I did too! But it certainly left it open for another 600 page sequel! And life seems so tranquil for Cromwell. He and Rafe are riding off the meet the King – with a stopover at Wolf Hall. Cromwell has NO idea what he has to face in the future -- what goes around, comes around!

Book Wrap Up

1. Using whatever rating system you use on your own blog, what you rate 'Wolf Hall'?

ABB - Ok if it wasn't for this read along I probably would have given up on this book awhile ago. I haven't put this much effort into finishing a book since school! It's not to say I didn't appreciate it, there was just so much superfluous information, I felt, and so so many characters. It was hard to wade through it all. I also had a hard time with the fact that quotes weren't always used and that 'he' was used too much when pretty much every conversation was with a group of men. So, in the end, I would have to say that I would give this a middling Grade C.

GDD – Although it was major confusing at times (the personal pronoun HE was a nightmare) – and I was still looking up characters at the end of the book – I loved it. I thought Mantel’s dialogue was some of the most brilliant I have ever read. It was authentic, powerful and the best part – witty! If I didn’t know better, I would have thought she’d discovered some long lost transcripts of these peoples conversations. Or she’d developed a time machine to go eaves drop on their conversations. We have no idea what personalities any of these individuals had – but I thought she was spot on in her descriptions. 4 out of 5 stars.

OOMO - I am confused and haven't finished, but I can't help really enjoying this book! I think that Hilary Mantel writes so beautifully and I am completely captivated by the book, if not often baffled by that damn 'he' pronoun!! Aargh! Even though I am super behind I am really enjoying it. I anticipate that I will be giving this a 3.5-4 stars.

2. Do you think this book was deserving of the Man Booker Prize?

ABB- Well, um, since so many books have been written about this time period I am not sure what is so different about it to make it deserving of the award besides the fact that it is written from Cromwell's perspective. I will say when it comes to the British Awards, I seem to like the Orange Prize for Fiction more than the Man Booker but I continue to read these in hopes that I will like them too!

GDD - Can’t answer that since A) I haven’t read any of the other books nominated with this one. Although, I wanted to read The Children’s Book by A. S. Byatt. Or B) I haven’t read any other Man Booker prize winner ever!! I agree, this topic is fairly saturated, but she made it modern and tangible to the 21st century.

OOMO- I have read half of The Children's Book and I (so far) think it deserved it more. However I haven't read any other of the shortlist nominees. I think it is extremely well written and appropriately epic, however I am often surprised by the winner of this prize.

3. What did you think of the read along?

ABB - I loved the experience of my first read along! Like I said above, I don't think I would have gotten through this book if it hadn't been for the read along. Also, I really wanted to read this book and I think this was the perfect format. It let me get to know Melissa at Gerbera Daisy Diaries better and to get to meet Elise at Once Oh Marvelous Once. I really hope we do one again, be it with next year's Man Booker winner or some classic that we want to re-read or something like that!

GDD - Absolutely LOVED the read along. Couldn’t have done this any other way. This book would have sat on my shelf for years. Agreed – loved being able to discuss it with Leah and Elise.

OOMO - I have really enjoyed the read along!! It has been so nice having weekly discussions with Leah and Melissa and getting to know them! I am very keen for further read alongs.

Ladies:  It's been so much fun!  I'm already going thru Wolf Hall withdrawals.  What am I going to post on Wednesday?

Thank you too to Hilary Mantel for writing such a marvelous book.  I've heard thru the book blogging grape vine that she is writing a sequel -- I will be 1st in line to buy it!