Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Review: Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

Wolf Hall: A Novel (Man Booker Prize)Title: Wolf Hall

Author: Hilary Mantel

Pages: 532

Source: From the library where I work

Challenges: Read 'n' Review challenge

First Sentence: "'So now get up.'"

Summary (From book jacket):
In the ruthless arena of King Henry VIII's court, only one man dares to gamble his life to win the king's favor and ascend to the heights of political power.
England is a heartbeat from disaster. If the king dies without a male heir, the country could be destroyed by civil war. Henry VIII wants to annul his marriage of twenty years and marry Anne Boleyn. The pope and Catholic Europe oppose him. The king's quest for freedom destroys his advisor, the brilliant Cardinal Wolsey, and creates a years-long power struggle between the Church and the Crown.
Into this impasse steps Thomas Cromwell, a wholly original man, both a charmer and a bully, an idealist and an opportunist, astute in reading people and a demon of energy: Cromwell is a consummate politician, hardened by years abroad and his personal losses. Implacable in his ambition and self-taught -- it is said that he can recite the entire New Testament from memory, knows Europe's major languages, and speaks poetry freely -- Cromwell soon becomes the country's most powerful figure after Henry. When Henry pursues his desire to marry Anne Boleyn, it is Cromwell who breaks the deadlock and allows the king his heart's desire. But Henry is volatile: one day tender, one day murderous. Cromwell helps him break the opposition -- Thomas More, "the man for all seasons"; Katherine the queen; his daughter the princess Mary -- but what will be the price of his triumph?

My Two Cents:

If you follow my Twitter or Goodreads updates at all, or if you've seen my last couple weeks' worth of It's Monday! What Are You Reading? and Teaser Tuesdays, you'll know my fight to read this book. I'm not usually afraid of chunksters, and I love anything to do with England, so this book seemed perfect for me.

The first twenty pages or so were great. I was going gangbusters getting into the world of Thomas Cromwell. Then, it all came to a screeching halt. I'm not sure what happened, because Mantel is such a great writer -- her prose is solid and tight, her descriptions are evocative, her syntax is varied -- but I just couldn't make any progress. It started to feel like a chore. But, I persisted, promising myself at least 50 pages every day (Which was amended to 50 pages every two days), and finally finished.

I really did enjoy this novel and, looking back, I'm so glad I persisted through my struggles and finished the book. Mantel did an amazing job painting Tudor England for me. Her characters were great. I actually really liked Thomas Cromwell. He was funny and caring, especially in regards to his family, but also reeked of ambition, which is what made him so successful at Henry's court. Mantel did a fabulous job making him a very well-rounded character.

I wanted to slap Thomas More upside the head until near the end of the book. He was mean and petty and a horrid misogynist, and he was far too pious for my tastes. Part of what I liked so much about this book was Mantel's ability to turn someone whom history has taught us is a good figure (At least someone who went through primary and secondary Catholic schooling) in More and turn him into a character that we are almost glad to be rid of.

Anne Boleyn was another character that I just couldn't get enough of. She was sassy and tough and out for her own causes. She wasn't about to let anyone or anything stand in her way. I usually don't like these types of characters in books -- the schemers only after power and fame -- but I really liked Anne. It's a big kudos to Mantel's talent.

That all being said, though, I can say this is one book, although I really liked it, I am not eager to revisit. I won't say that I'll never read it again, but it will be a long, long time before I do.

My rating: 9/10


Greg Zimmerman said...

Congratulations on finishing this tome - and thanks for the great review! This is actually the first "book blogger" review of this brick-of-a-book I've seen, and it sounds like it's definitely worth the effort.

Diane said...

Michelle...I really enjoyed your honest review. I have this one on my Kindle.

Sandra said...

I have this on my tbr list because it's winning big awards and I like a well written book. The subject unfortunately is not my cup of tea. I've had enough of English royal history. So I will probably struggle through it too. Good for you for finishing and thanks for an honest review.

Cym Lowell said...

Love your review and I am so glad you made it to the end :) Thanks for sharing your the honesty!


Rachelle said...

Interesting review! I'm not in a hurry to read another Anny Boleyn novel, but I usually love the Booker Prize winners. I didn't realize it was such a tome!


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