Book Review: Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

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General Fiction > Literature | Historical Fiction

In the ruthless arena of King Henry VIII’s court, only one man dares to gamble his life to win the king’s favor and ascend to the heights of political power

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. The quest for the king’s freedom destroys his adviser, the brilliant Cardinal Wolsey, and leaves a power vacuum.

Into this impasse steps Thomas Cromwell. Cromwell is a wholly original man, a charmer and a bully, both idealist and opportunist, astute in reading people and a demon of energy: he is also a consummate politician, hardened by his personal losses, 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?

In inimitable style, Hilary Mantel presents a picture of a half-made society on the cusp of change, where individuals fight or embrace their fate with passion and courage. With a vast array of characters, overflowing with incident, the novel re-creates an era when the personal and political are separated by a hairbreadth, where success brings unlimited power but a single failure means death.

Literary Awards: Man Booker Prize (2009)Orange Prize Nominee for Fiction Shortlist (2010)James Tait Black Memorial Prize Nominee for Fiction (2009),Costa Book Award Nominee for Novel (2009)Magnesia Litera Nominee for Translation (Litera za překladovou knihu) (2011), National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction (2009), The Rooster – The Morning News Tournament of Books (2010), Walter Scott Prize (2010)

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No comment. Hmph. Where do I start?

Chapter one opened with violence (and yes, it immediately appealed to my bloodthirsty side), but that’s pretty much it. I didn’t mind, for I was not expecting action scenes in Wolf Hall. But as the parts dragged on, it stayed flat for me for the rest of the novel. How laborious it was to finish this! Such an accomplishment-slash-disappointment rolled into one.

Frustration surfaced when Hilary Mantel‘s writing confused the hell out of me. It’s always started with a he, and given that there are many Thomases in this book, it was all so confusing. Man, the rereading I had to do (in order to secure my understanding where I’m at with the story) was not fun.

Thomas Cromwell is no hero, I get that. To each his own, knowing how Henry VIII can quickly change his mind to those who surrounds him, so Cromwell made sure he did everything to secure his household, and everyone in it. But when he started to lose his connection with his family (he went into arranging marriages for his sons as a political strategy, with no thought of how they would feel about it), I resented him until the end.

Let credit make its due to Hilary Mantel, as she did make my emotions rise – hatred for Anne Boleyn (and her family), disgust over Henry (and how he treats women), and disappointment for Cromwell. But that’s all I am giving Wolf Hall.

The idea that Thomas More as the key piece of how things will go down – I simply did not buy it. (Before you react, yes, I read this part of Tudor History, and I’m still not buying it as the height of conflict for Wolf Hall.)

Bring Up the Bodies? No, thank you. I’d rather read about Anne Boleyn’s downfall in Wikipedia.

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WOLF HALL by Hilary Mantel

Kindle Edition, 559 pages

Published April 1st 2010 by Henry Holt and Co.

2/5 stars

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4 thoughts on “Book Review: Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

  1. Very interesting review! I really liked this book, but I found Mantel’s prose (especially her use of pronouns) exhausting.

    • I think I would’ve liked this book if I did not invest on Cromwell emotionally. I liked the controversy, especially about Anne, though. But yeah, the pronouns are very exhausting. Thank you, Anna 🙂 glad it worked out for you!

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