by Hilary Mantel
Henry Holt and Company, 2009
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.
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:
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.