Thursday, April 7, 2011

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

Wolf Hall
by Hilary Mantel
Henry Holt and Company, 2009
532 pages

source: personal copy

In a nutshell:
Told from the perspective of Thomas Cromwell, Wolf Hall chronicles Henry VIII's challenge to the Church's power as he divorces Katherine of Aragon and marries Anne Boleyn. Winner of the 2009 Man Booker Prize.

My thoughts:
Wolf Hall is historical fiction for the historian. The well-researched story of Thomas Cromwell, his relationship with Henry VIII, and events surrounding Henry's divorce from Katherine and marriage to Anne Boleyn is fascinating stuff, but Wolf Hall is certainly not a page-turner. Tudor history is a personal favorite, yet this was an extremely slow read. Let me stress that slow, in this case, does not mean boring. Each page of Wolf Hall brought sixteenth century England to life and I was ultimately rewarded for the time and effort invested. This book is probably best read when large blocks of time are available.

A couple of quotes:
He, Cromwell, admires Katherine: he likes to see her moving about the royal palaces, as wide as she is high, stitched into gowns so bristling with gemstones that they look as if they are designed less for beauty than to withstand blows from a sword. Her auburn hair is faded and streaked with gray, tucked back under her gable hood like the modest wings of a city sparrow. Under her gowns she wears the habit of a Franciscan nun. Try always, Wolsey says, to find out what people wear under their clothes. At an earlier stage in life this would have surprised him; he had thought that under their clothes people wore their skin.  (page 69)
There is a world beyond this black world. There is a world of the possible. A world where Anne can be queen is a world where Cromwell can be Cromwell. He sees it; then he doesn't. The moment is fleeting. But insight cannot be taken back. You cannot return to the moment you were in before.  (page 168)
My rating:



Bottom line:
Tudor buffs and scholars will undoubtedly love Wolf Hall, but it may be a difficult novel for those with little knowledge of the time period.

31 comments:

  1. I have got to get back to this.

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  2. See this is why I've never tried it. First, I think I kinda suck at Bookers. Second, while I enjoy history, I wouldn't consider myself a buff. I fear I would read it, hate it, then feel really bad about myself!

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  3. Amy - Make sure you've got lots of time ;-)

    Sandy - My record with Bookers isn't great, either. I'm not a history buff, but really like reading about Tudor England. I won't be recommending this to my book club. I think most would hate it.

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  4. I gave up on this book. I really wanted to like it but I always dreaded picking it up, so I figured I should cut my losses.

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  5. I agree with you that Wolf Hall isn't a page turner. I took my time with it and liked it. But I think I've had enout Tudor history for a long while!

    Love the quotes you chose!

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  6. Stephanie - I can easily understand why you gave up on this one... sometimes it's better to cut your losses and walk away. It's good to see you again!

    Amy - LOL! I guess I've have my fill of Tudor history for a while, too! Still, I'm glad to have read this.

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  7. I'm sure that I'm one of those that would have a tough time getting into this as I know next to nothing about this period of history nor much the people involved.

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  8. Much as I love the stories of the Tudors, I've a hard time with Cromwell...Want to read this, but we'll see.
    Great quotes, however--they're tempting!

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  9. I so want to read this one but I never seem to be able to work in a slow book, even if slow doesn't mean boring!

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  10. I'm so glad you enjoyed Wolf Hall. It is a slow, dense read and does take time.

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  11. I've been halfway through this for about a year now. I still refuse to admit I've given up.

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  12. I'm not sure I have the patience for Wolf Hall. I've been watching you patiently plot through it and I admire that. I have been wanting to conquer one of the Bookers. Maybe something else?

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  13. I'm a huge Henry VIII nerd so this is high on my list to read, but I've read similar reviews to yours that say it takes time to get through, so I'm waiting until I have that time to invest in a long read. Great review :-)

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  14. I am not a great lover of historical fiction, but I do own this one. I am a little put off by the size of it to be honest.

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  15. I have this on my Kindle, but think I would struggle with it.

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  16. Staci - I'm glad I read this one, but am not rushing out and recommending it to my friends.

    DS - Yes, Tudor stories appeal to me... but this was quite an undertaking. If you decided to give it a try, be sure to choose the time carefully.

    Lisa - It IS hard to work in slow books. We visited Hampton Court Palace on our recent trip to London and that provided the extra incentive I needed.

    Gavin - Yes, slow and dense, but ultimately rewarding.

    Softdrink - Ha! I've got a few books like that on my nightstand, too...

    Margot - Not sure why the Bookers tend to be so difficult to get through. You can bet I won't be rereading this any time soon!

    Mummazappa - If you enjoy Henry VIII like I do, then Wolf Hall is your book. Good idea to wait until you have the time to devote to it though. Thanks for commenting!

    Vivienne - Wolf Hall may not be for you :-(

    Diane - Then I wouldn't be in a hurry to read it. Can't think of many people that would appreciate it...

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  17. So THAT'S what this book is about! Honestly, I had no idea. I actually saw a copy at a Borders closing sale and passed it up remembering how sloooooooow you said it was. Does sound a little more appealing now that I know it's about the Tudors.

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  18. Trish - Being about the Tudors makes Wolf Hall appealing, but I think you REALLY need to be into the Tudors to appreciate it :-)

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  19. Oh! I've not read anything about the Tudors earlier, but still have this, considering it won the Booker and what not. It looks way too chunky to read at the moment, so I'm just waiting for a holiday, before I pick it up, and off I go.

    Which book(s) would you recommend to initiate myself in the world of Tudor history?

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  20. I have this book in my TBR (found at a library sale). Seems like I should wait until summertime to tackle it! I do like history but it does seem like a long book.

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  21. Anothercookiecrumbles - Allison Weir has written many great books about the Tudors, and Philippa Gregory's The Other Boleyn girl is page-turning historical fiction.

    Valerie - If you'll have more time, definitely wait until summer for Wolf Hall. Hope you enjoy it!

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  22. I have to read this soon-thanks so much for your great post

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  23. Mel U - I'll look forward to your thoughts. Hope you enjoy it.

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  24. I have a copy of Wolf Hall that I bought after starting to read a library copy with a loooong hold list (so I couldn't renew) right around Christmastime. I realized it was the sort of book I needed time to read. Since then, though, I've been a little scared to pick it back up. I should--it sounds good!--though my knowledge of the corresponding history isn't particularly spectacular.

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  25. Erin - You'll know a lot more about the time period after after reading this book ;-) I bought my own copy, too ... knew the library's schedule would never work with this one.

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  26. I really want to read this one, but large chunks of time for reading are not happening around here so it may be a while before I get to it.

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  27. Stacybuckeye - Wolf Hall would not be an easy book to read while caring for your little guy, I'm afraid. There will always be time later...

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  28. My first encounter with Wolf Hall was futile. I was trying to read it in time for announcement of Booker Prize, which it won, but the slowness and my lack of knowledge in the historical background just completely stifled the experience.

    Just when I put the book down, I read An Instance of the Fingerpost by Iain Pears, which actually gave a good background on the period, when England was wracked with intrigue and civil strife.

    I think I'll return to this book, but, like you said, I have to allow plenty of time to slowly go through it.

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  29. Matt - I knew Wolf Hall would be daunting, but my recent visit to London (and Hampton Court Palace) provided the extra incentive I needed. Don't know if I'd have made it through otherwise. I did enjoy the book, but haven't been recommending it to friends.

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  30. I found "Wolf Hall" tough sledding. I had a hard time with her point-of-view, half the time I couldn't quite figure out who was talking or thinking. I did slog through it though, and I'm glad for it. I think too that I was disappointed that Byatt's "The Children's Book" didn't win the Booker, as I did think it was a much better novel than Mantel's "Wolf Hall". I enjoyed your review! Cheers! Chris

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  31. Chris - The Children's Book is near the top of my tbr pile and I hope to get to it this fall. Wolf Hall was definitely a slog, but I'm glad to have made it through. Don't foresee more of Mantel's work in my future.

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