Synopsis: England, the 1520s. Henry VIII is on the throne, but has no heir. Cardinal Wolsey is his chief advisor, charged with securing the divorce the pope refuses to grant. Into this atmosphere of distrust and need comes Thomas Cromwell, first as Wolsey’s clerk, and later his successor.
Cromwell is a wholly original man: the son of a brutal blacksmith, a political genius, a briber, a charmer, a bully, a man with a delicate and deadly expertise in manipulating people and events. Ruthless in pursuit of his own interests, he is as ambitious in his wider politics as he is for himself. His reforming agenda is carried out in the grip of a self-interested parliament and a king who fluctuates between romantic passions and murderous rages.
Title: Wolf Hall
Author: Hilary Mantel
Publisher: Fourth Estate
I’ve read a lot of historical fiction, especially those relating to the Tudors – there is something about the time period that fascinates me: the chivalry, the court, the drama, the food – I love it all. So Wolf Hall was a natural TBR choice. I didn’t know what to expect from Mantel; being a double Man Booker Prize winner, all I knew was that it had better be good.
And it was really, very good. To be fair; history has done a lot of work for her – the key events, characters plots and intrigue are heavily based in fact. But Mantel has managed to breathe life and substance into the Tudor’s without resorting to extremes or stereotypical cardboard cut outs (which many historical authors tend to fall into the habit of doing).
My knowledge of the protagonist, Thomas Cromwell, is horrifically limited (for a while I thought he was Oliver Cromwell, shameful, I know!) but the character depicted was so much more than I had ever expected. This dual-…tri-… maybe even quadri-sided personality is Mantel’s extraordinary masterpiece.
There has been a lot of positive and negative comments on Mantel’s use of “He” and “Him” when there are a number of them in the frame and it is unclear who is speaking and to whom. Personally, it was irksome at the beginning but once you’ve mastered the style of writing it becomes a superb read.
Adultery, betrayal, incest, love, murder, treason – history has it all – as does this book.