Wolf Hall

Hilary Mantel

Wolf Hall
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Wolf Hall

Hilary Mantel

Winner of the 2009 Man Booker Prize for Fiction.

Go backstage during the most dramatic period in English history: the reign of Henry VIII.

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, suffering and courage.

Review

This brick of a book comes with a royal family tree and two-page cast of characters, but don’t expect a standard historical blockbuster from Hilary Mantel. Whilst Wolf Hall revisits very thoroughly explored Tudor territory, traditional villain Thomas Cromwell is Mantel’s hero of choice. The son of a blacksmith, Cromwell was Cardinal Wolsey’s right hand man, then chief legal head-kicker for Henry VIII. He survives a brutal childhood to become an international jack of all trades and staunch family man: secular, intelligent and powerfully ambitious. His sleekness is in contrast to a dishevelled, emotionally and spiritually brutal Thomas More. At court, Anne Boleyn calculates her career while a pale Jane Seymour watches from the shadows. No heaving bosoms here. The whole book is about the acquisition and loss of power: of present and future queens, the monarchy and the church.

The true winners are the financial centres of Europe. Mantel’s writing is so good it demands frequent pauses for re-reading. Her bone dry character observations are often very funny, and she handles a mass of historical detail lightly but with absolute conviction. Wolf Hall doesn’t provide any surprise endings, but it is a supremely enjoyable journey.

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