Thursday, June 9, 2011

Review: "Wolf Hall" by Hilary Mantel

From Goodreads:  "Lock Cromwell in a deep dungeon in the morning," says Thomas More, "and when you come back that night he'll be sitting on a plush cushion eating larks' tongues, and all the gaolers will owe him money."

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.

From one of our finest living writers, Wolf Hall is that very rare thing: a truly great English novel, one that explores the intersection of individual psychology and wider politics. With a vast array of characters, and richly overflowing with incident, it peels back history to show us Tudor England as a half-made society, moulding itself with great passion and suffering and courage.

My Thoughts:  This book has an interesting premise; it tells the story of Henry VIII, his divorce from Catherine of Aragon and marriage to Anne Boleyn but it tells the story from Thomas Cromwell's point of view.  With such an interesting premise, this could have been a great book but it wasn't.  The picture that Mantel painted of Thomas Cromwell was wonderful; I have never looked at Cromwell as anything but Henry VIII's right hand man but in this book you actually get to see him as a human being who loves his family and is trying to improve their status in society.  Besides that, this book was very difficult, for me, to read.  It was written in the third person rather than being written as if you are in the mind of Thomas Cromwell.  It also didn't have a very linear storyline.  I felt like it jumped around and if you weren't already very familiar with the particulars of these events and who these people were, it would be very difficult to follow.  It was also hard to follow the dialogue; at times I didn't know who was saying what in a particular situation.  The final thing about this book that bothered me was the ending.  It was very abrupt and the reader didn't get to see the rest of Cromwell's rise to power and his subsequent fall which seems strange considering that the book is about Cromwell.  Overall, I didn't love this book and it was difficult at times to read.  3 stars.  


  1. I like the idea of it being from Cromwell's perspective. I've only ever read books from the perspective of Henry's wives.

  2. This book really sucked me in, but my dad really struggled with it. I think I got so caught up with it because I forced myself to read it in just a few days (b/c I was giving it to my friend for Xmas). Spending a lot of time with the book in a short period forced me to overlook the flaws you mention.


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