Wolf Hall has been an absolute pleasure to read and I am only sorry that I have not been able to dedicate more time to it. It’s the sort of book you just want to curl up on the sofa with, a log fire crackling in the background and a glass of red wine in your hand. Instead, I’ve been reading snippets on my commute and during a rare lunch break where I’m left alone by my colleagues.
Here’s a tip, if your colleague is sat reading they probably don’t want to talk avoid the urge to start a conversation with them forcing them to put their book aside.
Despite the awards and general furore about Mantel’s Wolf Hall I was a little sceptical about how engaging it would be. I’ve often found historical books to be laboured, lost in the language and lacking a real exposure to the characters. Wolf Hall could not be further from that. Mantel’s prose is flowing and so accessible you truly do get lost in the pages.
For the one person living under a rock who doesn’t know what it is about, Wolf Hall presents a fictional portrayal of the court of Henry VIII leading up to and during his divorce from Catherine of Aragon and eventual split from the Roman Catholic Church. The story is told through the eyes of Thomas Cromwell, the son of a blacksmith who rose to become a lawyer and chief aid to Cardinal Thomas Wolsey and eventually confidant and minister to Henry VIII.
Wolf Hall has two great things going for it. A plot full of adultery, treason, secrecy, blackmail, weddings, births and deaths; and characters that we love and loathe in equal measure at different times.
Mantel brings to life the world of Henry VIII with such vividness and detail it is easy to feel you are watching the story play out. She has diligently spent time developing and understanding each character, no matter how small a role they play in the book and this depth of character allows us to immerse ourselves in their lives. The choice of Thomas Cromwell as protagonist is fantastic, from the silent man who watches and knows everything we see him rise. Wolf Hall has a dark undertone, throughout the book there is a sense of foreboding, we all know how the story ends and yet in reading it I still felt on edge, feeling like I was a co-conspirator with Cromwell as he manipulated and steered the world of the court to the King’s and his liking.
With a vast array of Dukes, Lords, Knights, Ladies in Waiting, English Royal families, French Royal families and Spanish Royal families it is easy I must admit to get a little lost remembering who everyone is related to and what value or leverage they have to Cromwell. But this complexity comes from history, from the every changing allegiance of the time rather than Mantel’s writing.
Wolf Hall ends in 1535 with the death of Sir Thomas More. The next book in the series is Bringing Up the Bodies which carries us through the collapse of Henry VIII’s marriage to Anne Boleyn and his subsequent 3rd marriage to Jane Seymour, masterly orchestrated by Cromwell. You just know it’s going to be juicy and I can’t wait to read it!