Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

31FEzxERWfL._SL500_AA215_This is a monster novel – 650 pages. But it is a wonderful read. This is a novel about Thomas Cromwell set mostly in the period 1527-1535. Cromwell was in the service of Cardinal Wolsey when Wolsey was the senior advisor to Henry VIII. Wolsey fell from favor and eventually died on his way to trial and Cromwell became a trusted advisor to Henry rising to the position of Secretary – master minding Henry’s desires. Cromwell was lawyer. The novel begins with Cromwell’s childhood – the hard life he lived – the running a way from home – the independence desire to survive – but it soon moves into his life as a married man in the service of Wolsey. Mantel makes it clear that Cromwell was a reformer – owning a copy of Tyndales New Testament – a book outlawed at that time in England. She also creates wonderful moments between Cromwell and Thomas More whom she paints as an eccentric – often shabbily dressed, but also as a champion for the mother church. Historically this is a very accurate novel – fictionally, it is very clever. The dialogue is swift and sometimes complex, not knowing if you are reading the characters thoughts or actual conversation with someone. However, Mantel draws you into the story as she develops the characters. She never makes Cromwell a hero – is he good, bad, amoral? You find yourself feeling strongly for him when he loses his wife and child to the sweating sickness, but she also draws out his ruthlessness in his pursuit to do Henry’s will. The novel ends mid-way through Cromwell’s career. He is still in power at the end and she does not tackle his downfall. If you love historical fiction then this is a must read. It is currently on the Booker shortlist.


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