Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Wolf Hall - Book Review

I've long been curious about English History, especially the period of time from King Henry VIII to Queen Elizabeth so the novel Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel captured my attention when it was published a few years ago and received so much praise. I bought a copy with every intention to read it; put it on my shelf and didn't get to it. A few weeks ago, some book review bloggers that I read (The Bluestocking Society and It's All About Books) suggested reading Wolf Hall as a read-along. It sounded like fun so I joined up. The only problem was once I had started, I couldn't put it down and didn't stick to the read-along schedule at all.

From the perspective of Thomas Cromwell, a councilor to Henry VIII, Wolf Hall takes a man who is usually portrayed in histories as the cold, calculating toady to a lustful Henry and shows him as compassionate, sensitive, loyal and wise while also self-promoting. It is a fascinating alternate view of the history. Mantel's writing is engaging, at times funny and tender. The scenes with Cromwell and his family--a collection of relatives and wards--show Cromwell as affectionate and benevolent. He is a man of mercy, loyalty and ingenuity.

While I have always had sympathy for Catherine, the displaced queen, I also have found the history of the break with the Roman Catholic Church an essential part necessary for the reformation of Christianity. Wolf Hall details more of the inner decisions of men working closely with Henry VIII who also wanted reforms and were bothered by the wealth, greed, power and corruption of the papacy. It was a most interesting period of time and I very much enjoyed Mantel's carefully scripted version of events and characterizations of the players.

The reader must work for the enjoyment and enlightenment within, however. It took me at least 50 pages to get used to the unique writing style which rarely referred to Cromwell by his name but rather by pronouns. I found myself reading dialogue sections over frequently to try to determine just who was saying what. Every word is essential to understanding. And really, it was very much worth the work.

Looking forward to the sequel Bring Up the Bodies.


anna said...

Hooray! I have a copy of this that I picked up at a book sale on my shelf. I need a good book to read since I just finished The Distant Hours and The Secret Keeper and they both were soooo good. I am on a little bit of a book lull. I will start it tonight when I get home from Disneyland. Wish you were here.

Suey said...

Awesome recap! This history is fascinating, isn't it. When do you plan to read Bring Up the Bodies? I doubt I will get to it very soon, but read it, I will!