Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

Wolf Hall Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

At first I’m a little ambivalent about Wolf Hall, notwithstanding all the rave reviews Hilary Mantel is getting for her 600-odd-page historical novel about Thomas Cromwell. The thing is, the way she uses ‘he’ – just that alone – for Cromwell, even when there is another male character present. This can be a bit troublesome, when you take a break and come back from lunch, dinner, supper, etc, from a non-reading activity, to resume reading. You can sometimes get it wrong who the ‘he’ is referring to. After a bit I then get it: if ‘he’ appears in a paragraph alone, it’s Cromwell. Even when Henry (the king, so informal) is in the picture, just be wary – yes, the ‘he’ is also Cromwell.

Also, if you are going to read this novel anticipating long descriptions, just be ready for the spare, lean descriptions to shock your system. Most of the action is predicated upon dialogue. You are to fill in the rest of the scene with just a few strokes of descriptions to help, if at all.

And, there is such an abundance of characters, that, luckily, Mantel has the presence of mind to include a list of them before the start of the book. Sometimes I have to turn to the list, to remind me who that character is in that paragraph.

At the start, we see Cromwell being beaten by his blacksmith father. He runs to his sister for comfort. He grows up, getting experiences on the way, becomes a lawyer, and the right-hand man of one very powerful Cardinal Wolsey. After his – Wolsey’s – fall, he becomes Henry’s right-hand man, helping him annul his marriage to Katherine so that he can marry Anne Boleyn. At the end of the book we see Cromwell cause the fall of another Thomas, Thomas More. In the book we also see the softer side of Cromwell, his grief for the deaths of his wife and daughters during the black plague.

After reading a third through the book, you get accustomed to all these linguistic quirks. Then at the last page, you realize what a good read it all has been, what an amazing feat of stylistics.

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