Wolf Hall (Thomas Cromwell, #1)
England in the 1520s 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 most of Europe opposes him. Into this impasse steps Thomas Cromwell: a wholly original man, a charmer and a bully, both idealist and opportunist, astute in reading people, and implacable in his ambition. But Henry is volatile: one day tender, one day murderous. Cromwell helps him break the opposition, but what will be the price of his triumph?

Wolf Hall (Thomas Cromwell, #1) Details

TitleWolf Hall (Thomas Cromwell, #1)
Author
FormatPaperback
LanguageEnglish
ReleaseMar 30th, 2017
PublisherHarperCollins Publishers Ltd
ISBN0007230206
ISBN-139780007230204
Number of pages653 pages
Rating
GenreHistorical Fiction, Fiction, Historical, Abandoned

Wolf Hall (Thomas Cromwell, #1) Review

  • Wendy
    January 22, 2011
    Have you ever been with a group of people when someone tells a joke and the rest of the group thinks it's hilarious but you just don't get it? Wolf Hall was that way for me. So many people think it's brilliant while I couldn't maintain enough interest to finish it.I love historical fiction, especially from this time period, so I expected to really like this one. I thought that telling the story of Henry VIII from the viewpoint of Cromwell was an interesting twist and I looked forward to learning Have you ever been with a group of people when someone tells a joke and the rest of the group thinks it's hilarious but you just don't get it? Wolf Hall was that way for me. So many people think it's brilliant while I couldn't maintain enough interest to finish it.I love historical fiction, especially from this time period, so I expected to really like this one. I thought that telling the story of Henry VIII from the viewpoint of Cromwell was an interesting twist and I looked forward to learning more about him. So what was the problem?Well, for starters, the writing style took turns irritating and confusing me. Quotation marks are apparently optional, making it hard to figure out that you're reading dialogue until you get to the "he said". Speaking of which, the author relies heavily on the pronoun "he" and since there were frequently at least 2 men in each scene, this reader was often unsure which he was the right he. As the men in scene multiplied, so did the confusion. It took so much effort to figure out who was who and who said what and what was going on that it stopped being entertaining or thought-provoking and just became work.And did I mention the colon? The poor, lonesome, and oft-ignored colon finally has his time in the spotlight in this novel. Upgraded from lonely punctuation understudy, the colon has a lead role here. The author uses colons so frequently and somewhat oddly that I would recommend a complete colonectomy. Here's an example from one paragraph: (Aargh! A colon! It must be contagious.)"But by the time he reaches Dover the big gash on his scalp has closed, and the tender parts inside, he trusts, have mended themselves: kidneys, lungs, and heart." "Morgan Williams will have done an inventory of him before he left: teeth (miraculously) still in his head, and two eyes, miraculously seeing. Two arms, two legs: what more do you want?"Overall, the book felt like it was trying too hard to be literary. Some of the prose was lovely, but there were enough little stylistic choices that annoyed me to put me off. After reading numerous reviews, even from people who loved the book, that said that most of the characters remained distant throughout and that they didn't learn anything more about Cromwell after reading 500+ pages, that was enough for me. Sadly, life's too short and my TBR pile's too big. I had to abandon this one.
    more
  • Lewis Weinstein
    January 7, 2012
    I just started Wolf Hall, and I find the relentless use of "he" to be extremely irritating. In the first several chapters, there are dozens of instances where it is not clear who is speaking. Every once in a while, as if recognizing the problem she has created, Mantel uses the phrase "he, Cromwell." Why not just say Cromwell?Unless there is some good reason which I can't imagine, this sort of obfuscation is just lazy writing which disrespects the reader. May I re-think that, based on a comment b I just started Wolf Hall, and I find the relentless use of "he" to be extremely irritating. In the first several chapters, there are dozens of instances where it is not clear who is speaking. Every once in a while, as if recognizing the problem she has created, Mantel uses the phrase "he, Cromwell." Why not just say Cromwell?Unless there is some good reason which I can't imagine, this sort of obfuscation is just lazy writing which disrespects the reader. May I re-think that, based on a comment by another reader. It's not lazy writing. It's very purposeful. And very distracting.... later ... I just read some of the amazon reviews. There are actually quite a few readers who found the "he" business as disconcerting as I did, and who expressed their displeasure in rather strong terms, along with many *-star ratings. However, many others really liked the book, as do many Goodreads readers, so it must not bother them as it does me. Another Goodreads reader suggested that the use of "he" all the time created a closer intimacy with Cromwell. Perhaps, but I see it differently. If you want to create intimacy, use the first person. Then it is clear that everything is seen and felt by the single protagonist, and the reader can share that character's viewpoint, thoughts and feelings. What Mantel has done is not to bring us close to Cromwell, but to inject herself, the author, between the reader and the prime character. She does this on practically every page and I find it jarring every time it happens.Before my final negative notes, let me say that Mantel clearly has an exquisite command of the language. Even in the few chapters I read, her elegant choice of words often made me reflect and smile. She can paint a picture when describing a character or a setting that is truly wonderful. And, when she chooses to do so, she writes a vivid scene that has power and emotion.Such continuity of story, however, is the exception rather than the rule. The constant switching of time and place, often without the merest hint of transition, made the reading much more difficult than it had to be. Just a word here or there would have made a huge difference.Finally, the breezy style in which much of the book is written is entertaining, as many have noted and I agree, but it had the effect of making me wonder if Mantel was as true to the history as I think a historical fiction should be. Of course the dialogue and many of the personal incidents are made up, but does the author, when portraying actual events, present them accurately? I think such concern for the truth is an obligation of an author when writing about historical characters and events. Mantel left me unsure.I think I've had enough of Wolf Hall, and perhaps other Goodreads readers have had enough of my criticism of what is surely a popular book. I don't usually write negative opinions, but this book just seemed to drag them out of me. I hope I have not offended anyone.
    more
  • Teresa
    February 2, 2010
    The thing to remember when starting this book is that 99% percent of the time the pronoun 'he' refers to Cromwell, even at times when the sentence structure makes it seems like 'he' would be someone else. It took me a short while to realize this, but once I did, I was fine. You are in Cromwell's head; you see everything from his perspective. As he reacts to others' reactions of him (many times, he is bemused to see how he is thought of) another layer of characterization is added.This novel is be The thing to remember when starting this book is that 99% percent of the time the pronoun 'he' refers to Cromwell, even at times when the sentence structure makes it seems like 'he' would be someone else. It took me a short while to realize this, but once I did, I was fine. You are in Cromwell's head; you see everything from his perspective. As he reacts to others' reactions of him (many times, he is bemused to see how he is thought of) another layer of characterization is added.This novel is beautifully written with unique descriptions (I love when authors can pull that uniqueness off -- not easy to do!) sprinkled here and there; Cromwell is fascinating (and drawn sympathetically by Mantel) and even surprisingly charming in his interactions with family members and certain others. (Though that's not to say that he doesn't use some of these others either.) And he's funny! Though all of this is done, oh, so, subtly.It's said that historical fiction is as much about the time during which it's written as it is about the time it's set in. And through Mantel's eyes, we see the similarities of the time periods' political intrigue, as messy and incestuous then as it is now. I thought I was done with Tudor historical fiction (I've read so much of it through the years) but this book is different.You won't understand the novel's title until later in the book, and I won't explain it here, as I got excited (a rare emotion when reading) seeing the meanings unfold, and I wouldn't want to spoil that for anyone. I also got very excited as I read this quote: (page 394) "Suppose within each book there is another book, and within every letter on every page another volume constantly unfolding; but these volumes take no space on the desk. Suppose knowledge could be reduced to a quintessence, held within a picture, a sign, held within a place which is no place. Suppose the human skull were to become capacious, spaces opening inside it, humming chambers like beehives." I felt as if I had found the 'key' to the whole book. This is one of those long novels that I loved living with and hated to see end, one of those experiences which causes you not to want to rush off to read something else, because you're still soaking in the one you've just finished.
    more
  • Paul Bryant
    June 4, 2012
    For the first 100 pages I was like a Monkees song, you know the one -[Cue cute organ/guitar intro]I thought great historical novels about the 16th century were only true in fairy talesMeant for someone else but not for meMmm, historical novelists were out to get meThat's the way it seemedDisappointment haunted all my dreamsThen I read Wolf Hall ! Now I'm a believer!Not a trace of doubt in my mind!Ooh I'm in love!Ooh Hilary Mantel I couldn’t leave you if I triedBut then some strange things began For the first 100 pages I was like a Monkees song, you know the one -[Cue cute organ/guitar intro]I thought great historical novels about the 16th century were only true in fairy talesMeant for someone else but not for meMmm, historical novelists were out to get meThat's the way it seemedDisappointment haunted all my dreamsThen I read Wolf Hall ! Now I'm a believer!Not a trace of doubt in my mind!Ooh I'm in love!Ooh Hilary Mantel I couldn’t leave you if I triedBut then some strange things began to percolate through to my sluggish oily consciousness, beetling my brows and causing pushed out bottom lip expressions to become prominent. The style is great, all that detail, every surface covered, you never see the props manager or the mike boom, the brocades and all the grey velvet actually seem real (what budget did this novel get?) but.But.I noticed that although we crawl along with Thomas Cromwell inch by inch, hour by hour, Hilary Mantel never, never, never mentions how her hero actually feels about anything, never mentions his thoughts, his worries, his concerns, his interior. It’s all surface. What he said, his gestures, the way he looked, what he knew, what he ate, how he knew how to cook it, who he yelled at, who he was kind to (children and animals, aah)- this is what we get ; what he thought he was up to or could or couldn’t achieve, his fears, who he hated, all that, has to be inferred; this is the poster novel for show don’t tell; this shows everything, almost, and tells nothing.That that is a deliberately chosen technique is clear; and you must appreciate if you cannot celebrate or accept if you cannot appreciate. But if you can’t get on board with it this novel is going to drive you into the arms of a therapist.AT THE THERAPIST’SDr Rayner : So what’s been happening this week?Reader of Wolf Hall : Well, it’s er er Thomas.Dr Rayner (professionally covering up his increasing irritation) : Ah, Thomas. Again.ROWH : He… he just never tells me anything. I have to guess, all the time. Dr Rayner : Ah ha, um. Yes…ROWH : I feel so close to him, and yet…Dr Rayner : And yet so distant.ROWH : Ah, you know, you know!Dr Rayner’s eyes dart about, as if seeking a sympathetic face. But there is none.There’s more. There’s a brilliant JG Ballard short story called The Garden of Time. A guy potters around in his beautiful garden and in the mid-distance he can see an enormous hostile army approaching across the landscape. It seems to be in slow motion. Every day it’s a little nearer. Neither he nor his wife has any thoughts of moving away. They look after the exquisite flowers, they repot plants, they discuss borders. It’s a great metaphor. Wolf Hall is in slow motion. There’s the painfully attenuated downfall of Cardinal Wolsey. Then there’s the even more excruciatingly drawn out overarching issue of the Great Matter of the King’s Divorce, or Annulment, whatever. Off with the Katherine and on with the Anne. So here’s a funny thing. After the great Cardinal Wolsey (and he is a great character, I loved him) - after he’s dead and gone, (none of this is plot spoiler, this is history! – it’s quite a trick to write a long story which everyone knows and still have them queuing round the block) I was scratching my head and thinking that although I’d been hearing so much of and about Cardinal Wolsey (he is the Penn to Thomas Cromwell’s Teller) in the months days hours minutes seconds of his huge demise I still couldn’t figure out exactly why - why - why King Henry turned on him in such fury. A quick Wikipedia gave me this: Wolsey had failed [to get the King’s marriage annulled] and was dismissed from public office in 1529. Wolsey then began a secret plot to have Anne Boleyn forced into exile and began communicating with the Pope to that end. When this was discovered, Henry ordered Wolsey's arrestWhoah. Unless I fell asleep during the crucial bit, that is not in the book. Don’t you think it should be? Might help explain things a bit better? How strange of Hilary.So if Hilary Mantel wrote a novel about the Kennedy assassination you would have got lots of detailed scenes of life at the court of the Kennedys, the domestic problems of the Oswalds, their life in Russia, what the crowds were saying on the Dealey Plaza, but when the motorcade appeared she would cut immediately to the autopsy and the comments of the surgeons and their family situations. We would get a few scenes with Jack Ruby and his pals, but next thing you know he’d be under arrest. Huh, what happened?It’s like being on the inside, but the outside of the inside.What are we taught about drama? Exposition, complication, resolution (comedy); exposition, conflict, catastrophe (tragedy). What does Hilary do? Throws the rules away. Hilary, and this goes double for A Place of Greater Safety, her vast novel about the French Revolution, goes for : exposition, complication, more exposition, more and more exposition, more complication. Where’s the conflict? Off stage. Is this a problem? It is going to be, for some people. Quentin Tarantino fans, players of Thrill Kill and Mortal Kombat, you know, impatient types.NOT ZOMBIES OR PUPPETSBut historical novelists, especially those like Hilary who embroider their worlds so lavishly, and set the right birds in each tree at the right angle, and the weeds underfoot, and the stench of the straw in the barn, and the wounds of a knife fight as well as each bauble, buckle, bead, biggins and bodice I think do us a grand service, re-plugging us back into the people who we were, making it possible to think that life did indeed go on in almost recognisable forms 500 years ago. It’s like claiming these lives back, scraping off the encrustings of ignorance and they don’t look like zombies or puppets. Some literature fans tend to get their sneery faces on and call historical fiction middlebrow. They do! Although I know what they mean, there are brows (brows = class), there are three main classes and they each have a brow, it’s straightforward enough. What are Darconville’s Cat, Wittgenstein’s Mistress, The Pale King, Invisible Cities, Ulysses, Mrs Dalloway and Life : A User’s Guide? Highbrow – a clue is in the fact that none of them can tell a story worth a damn but the things they do with language constitute a legal high. So then, lowbrow must be the mindless genre churn you get in the lovely world of – er - Romance, for instance – they have titles like Come Away with Me, This Man, Dark Soul, Beautiful Disaster. Probably that sounds insulting to Romance fans but hey, come on, you know this stuff is popcorn and not haute cuisine, right? You ain’t kidding yourselves are you? And there’s all kinds of interesting authors who rescued formerly lowbrow genres and made them into middlebrow literature – Hammett and Chandler for detective stories, McMurtry for Westerns, Ballard and a zillion others for science fiction (which was originally considered to be as wretched as the other low genres)… but I am wandering from the subject which is – everything that’s not high or low is in the middle ( that’s in the Bible, Habbakuk 10:4). Therefore Hilary Mantel is middlebrow.Okay, so what, we can’t dine on foi gras all the livelong day, but if this is middle it’s somewhere near the top of the middle bangin’ on the ceiling, and eventually, who cares about these distinctions.The Great Matter of the King’s Divorce - a historical noteYeah, you can think that this was some egotistical tyrannical English king thinking with his royal member and stamping on the floor until he got what he wanted even if that meant excommunication and the sundering of the Church, but actually - he wanted an heir – a son – because of the succession, because if the succession wasn’t clear and undisputed, there would be a certain return of the fratricidal civil war which had gone on for 50 years prior to Henry’s father’s victory – so it wasn’t, in fact, a trivial matter.Two great quotesCromwell is faced with a recalcitrant noble who’s making a terrible fuss about his ancient rights and privileges. How can he explain it to him? The world isn’t run from where he thinks. Not from his border fortresses, not even from Whitehall. The world is run from Antwerp, from Florence, from places he has never imagined; from Lisbon, from where the ships with sails of silk drift west and are burned up in the sun. Not from castle walls but from counting houses, not by the call of the bugle but by the click of the abacus, not by the grate and click of the mechanism of the gun but by the scrape of the pen on the page of the promissory note that pays for the gun and the gunsmith and the powder and shot.andWhen have I ever forced anyone to do anything, he starts to say : but Richard cuts in, ‘No you don’t, I agree, it’s just that you are practised at persuading, and sometimes it’s quite difficult, sir, to distinguish being persuaded by you from being knocked down in the street and stamped on.’This novel took me so many hours to read but you know I don’t want them back, Hilary Mantel can keep them.
    more
  • Riku Sayuj
    December 1, 2011
    I treat this novel as a qualified failure of an experiment (qualified since I am open to the possibility that the failure was mine) and I sincerely wish that Mantel does not win the Booker this year - I just cannot bring myself to spend anymore time with her lifeless narrator.More than anything else Wolf Hall seemed to me to be a literary experiment - on how closely a woman can get into a man's mind, and as far as I am concerned, a qualified failure. I could never truly feel that the narration w I treat this novel as a qualified failure of an experiment (qualified since I am open to the possibility that the failure was mine) and I sincerely wish that Mantel does not win the Booker this year - I just cannot bring myself to spend anymore time with her lifeless narrator.More than anything else Wolf Hall seemed to me to be a literary experiment - on how closely a woman can get into a man's mind, and as far as I am concerned, a qualified failure. I could never truly feel that the narration was being executed by a male voice, it was as if a woman narrator residing inside a captive male character was telling the story and every time a ‘he’ or 'his' comes along, it resulted in a string of confused stumblings over adjectives before I remembered again (many times) that it is of himself that the narrator is talking about. Eventually I came to understand the reason for this jarring feeling - it was not because I was not reading thoroughly enough, it was because I couldn't think of the narrator as a ‘he’ - it just didn't cut it, especially when he/she informed me with wonder of how men embrace other men.I wish Mary Boleyn had been the narrator, she was the only 'real' person in this narrative peopled by artificial characters, only she had an authentic voice to me and I can't help but feel that she was the character that Mantel most identified with - the novel came alive and took such vibrancy every time Mary entered the narrator's field of vision, like a deprived woman lighting up at the sight of a beautiful mirror to finally examine herself!As I said, I am open to the fact that my bad experience was due to a failure of imagination on my part, so I hope fans of this book will take pity on my deprived pleasure and be gentle in their recriminations.Come to think of it I really cannot think of any book I have read in which a novelist tries to get so intimate with the mind of a narrator of the opposite sex. So maybe my problem was not a failure of imagination but a poverty of literary experience as I haven't encountered such an effort before; maybe I need to read some Hardy.I also believe that if there were less 'Thomas's in the story, I could have still come out the better in this expedition. So there.
    more
  • Jeffrey Keeten
    June 23, 2014
    “Suppose within each book there is another book, and within every letter on every page another volume constantly unfolding; but these volumes take no space on the desk. Suppose knowledge could be reduced to a quintessence, held within a picture, a sign, held within a place which is no place. Suppose the human skull were to become capacious, spaces opening inside it, humming chambers like beehives.” Thomas Cromwell by Hans Holbein. Cromwell was a great supporter of Holbein and personal gave him m “Suppose within each book there is another book, and within every letter on every page another volume constantly unfolding; but these volumes take no space on the desk. Suppose knowledge could be reduced to a quintessence, held within a picture, a sign, held within a place which is no place. Suppose the human skull were to become capacious, spaces opening inside it, humming chambers like beehives.” Thomas Cromwell by Hans Holbein. Cromwell was a great supporter of Holbein and personal gave him many commissions for paintings, but also recommended him to the powerful people he knew.Thomas Cromwell was first and foremost a thinker. The myth that we only use about 10% of our brains has been debunked in recent years, but I do think we can accurately say that for some of us our brain works more efficiently. I think if we were to sit in a very quiet room with Thomas Cromwell we might actually be able to hear the humming of his mind like the circuitry of a super computer. Henry the Eighth I'm 'Enery the Eighth, I am,'Enery the Eighth I am, I am!I got married to the widow next door,She's been married seven times beforeAnd every one was an 'EneryShe wouldn't have a Willie nor a SamI'm her eighth old man named 'Enery'Enery the Eighth, I am! Sorry I can’t ever seem to say or write his name without that song popping into my head. Let’s try this again. Henry the Eighth was not supposed to be king. The 16th century was supposed to be the return of the Age of Camelot when his older brother, Arthur, claimed his birthright and became king of England. It was Arthur that had been tutored and trained to be king. Henry would have been destined for the church if not for the fickleness of fate that left his brother dead six months before his sixteenth birthday. Henry the Eighth rules like a second son that was always second best. He is impetuous, bombastic, corpulent, and prone to fits of fury. He is not a stupid man and always surrounded himself with intelligent men, disciplined men, who could provide him with wise counsel. He did not always take their advice, but he did always give them a chance to make a case. The most iconic image of Henry the Eighth painted by Holbein as a mural in Whitehall Palace. It was unfortunately destroyed by fire in 1698, but survives through the numerous copies that were made of it. Notice the bulging calves. Henry was always very proud of them.Henry preferred advisers named Thomas.Thomas WolseyThomas MoreThomas CromwellCromwell worked for Thomas Wolsey and when the cardinal fell out of favor it could have been the end for Cromwell’s hopes as well. Cromwell is a lot of things, a complicated man, a sometimes hard man, but ultimately he is a survivor. It is so interesting that Hilary Mantel decided to paint a more sympathetic picture of him than what I’d previously thought him to be. He understood money and that true power does not reside with the man on the throne. ”The world is not run from where he thinks. Not from his border fortresses, not even from Whitehall. The world is run from Antwerp, from Florence, from places he has never imagined; from Lisbon, from where the ships with sails of silk drift west and are burned up in the sun. Not from castle walls, but from countinghouses, not by the call of the bugle but by the click of abacus, not by the grate and click of the mechanism of the gun but by the scrape of the pen on the page of the promissory note that pays for the gun and the gunsmith and the powder and shot.” Thomas More by Hans Holbein.I first met Thomas More through his book Utopia in a class in college. The Praise of Folly by Erasmus was also required reading for the same class. I thought both books were fantastic because to truly understand the writings of these two important writers one must explore the history behind the books. So I wanted to love More, but as I learned more about him the title of his book became more and more an inappropriate extension of the man. His view of how the real world should work was not the Utopia he persuaded me could exist. He was opposed to the Protestant Reformation. He, with great fervor, began to hunt down anyone connected to the Reformation and interrogate, torture and burn them. He didn’t keep his distance from it. He was frequently down in the stench and the squalor of the dungeons watching his prisoners being broken on the rack. The flames of burning heretics danced in his eyes. He may have taken too much pleasure in his work. My theory is anyone who wears a hairshirt all the time and scourges themselves for evening entertainment is not someone I want making decisions about my life. More may have been brilliant, but those beautiful marbles in his head were scrambled. There have been many beautiful actresses to play the enchanting Anne Boleyn, but my favorite is Natalie Dormer from The Tudors simply because she has that saucy smirk that could be used as such a weapon quite capable of bringing down a King or a kingdom to achieve her ambitions.When the King, in his pursuit of Anne Boleyn, decides that the only way he is going to free himself from the albatross from Aragon, Catherine, is to break with the Roman Catholic Church. This puts the King in direct conflict with one of his most trusted advisers the before mentioned Thomas More. Sir Thomas cannot break with his beliefs. When he is asked to sign an oath supporting the King he refuses. He certainly had a martyr complex. In fact Cromwell in a last ditch effort to try and save More’s life points out his hubris in thinking of himself as a Christ figure. It was to no avail. I do believe that Cromwell feels an uneasiness about the fates of the powerful men who came before him. He is always trying to hedge his bets, loaning money at ridiculous low interests to the aristocrats, soothing the relationship between Anne and her sister Mary (Henry’s current favorite bed warmer as he waits for Anne to pop open her corset.), taking care of embarrassing circumstances for other people, forming alliances with the enemies of his friends, and being kind to Henry’s only surviving child (Mary) with Catherine. He is always trying to anticipate the future. He worked to soften the blows to his enemies believing that someday they would be potential allies. He took in orphans, not just from his family, but even from people unconnected to him. He assessed their best aspects and put them with tutors so they would be useful to him in the future. He understands people and knows how to manipulate them and encourage them at the same time. “But it is no use to justify yourself. It is no good to explain. It is weak to be anecdotal. It is wise to conceal the past even if there is nothing to conceal. A man's power is in the half-light, in the half-seen movements of his hand and the unguessed-at expression of his face. It is the absence of facts that frightens people: the gap you open, into which they pour their fears, fantasies, desires.”He is but a man and there is no time when that is more evident than when his daughter Grace dies. ”Grace dies in his arms; she dies easily, as naturally as she was born. He eases her back against the damp sheet: a child of impossible perfection, her fingers uncurling like thin white leaves. I never knew her, he thinks; I never knew I had her. It has always seemed impossible to him that some act of his gave her life, some unthinking thing that he and Liz did, on some unmemorable night.”The sweating sickness took his wife and both his daughters leaving only him and his son Gregory alive. Maybe those deaths is why he felt so compelled to fill his house with children. It didn’t have to be his children. He thought all children were salvageable, moldable, if encouraged to work at being better at what they were best at. Cromwell grew up the son of a blacksmith. His father beat him so severely, in fact the book opens with a scene that showed the impassioned brutality that his father was capable of, that Cromwell leaves to join the army and seek his fortune abroad. He taught himself to read. He was always working his mind like a muscle making it stronger with every book he read. With every moment he spent studying the workings of economics, politics, and psychology (he didn’t know that was what it was called.) he was giving himself the means to make better decisions, to offer better advice, to hone his cunning. He was truly a self made man who by sheer audacity and brilliance made it to the pinnacles of power. When he becomes sick though and is at his most vulnerable the fears of a child creep into his mind. ”On the stairs he can hear the efficient, deathly clip of his father’s steel-tipped boots.” Hilary Mantel, what big eyes you have.Little is known about the early life of Thomas Cromwell. He would be pleased to know that. He was much more interested in knowing everything about everyone and careful about letting others know anything about him. He was a long game thinker. Something he does one day may not make sense to those around him until much later when the dominoes fall a new direction. Mantel will clothe him, put flesh on his bones, share his innermost thoughts, and show you a man capable of being ruthless, but just as likely to be compassionate. Though Henry was particularly fascinated with lopping off heads Cromwell knew that ultimately as you eliminate one enemy you only create more. If possible it is much smarter to blackmail, confuse, or convince an arch enemy, maybe not to be friends that would be expecting too much, but at least to become a passive challenger. There are a lot of Thomas’s in this book and at times it can seem confusing, but the rule of thumb is if you are not clear about who is speaking or who is sharing their inner thoughts that would be Thomas Cromwell. Winner of the Man Booker Prize in 2009 and highly recommended by this dedicated reader. If you wish to see more of my most recent book and movie reviews, visit http://www.jeffreykeeten.comI also have a Facebook blogger page at:https://www.facebook.com/JeffreyKeeten
    more
  • Will Byrnes
    March 18, 2015
    The fate of peoples is made like this, two men in small rooms. Forget the coronations, the conclaves of cardinals, the pomp and processions. This is how the world changes: a counter pushed across a table, a pen stroke that alters the force of a phrase, a woman’s sigh as she passes and leaves on the air a trail of orange flower or rose water; her hand pulling close the bed curtain, the discrete sigh of flesh against flesh. Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown…but really, crown-wearers seem The fate of peoples is made like this, two men in small rooms. Forget the coronations, the conclaves of cardinals, the pomp and processions. This is how the world changes: a counter pushed across a table, a pen stroke that alters the force of a phrase, a woman’s sigh as she passes and leaves on the air a trail of orange flower or rose water; her hand pulling close the bed curtain, the discrete sigh of flesh against flesh. Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown…but really, crown-wearers seem to have little difficulty with fabrication. Do they mean lie, as in lying down? I mean I would take it off before going to bed. It might get pretty uncomfortable trying to sleep with that thing still on. Wouldn’t it be more accurate to say uneasy “sits the head that wears the crown,” although that creates in my tiny mind an image of Mister Potato head, with legs and feet. You know you want to see that, so go ahead. I’ll wait. (view spoiler)[Well, I could not find one with legs but you get the picture.His and Hers (hide spoiler)] How about uneasy stands the head… , but, oh, see Mr Potato head referred above. So I guess we will leave that one alone, as, clearly, it could be worse. In any case, as uneasy as that head might be, it is clearly more dangerous to anyone who has anything at all to do with the head that has the crown on it. Chopped tops are practically bounding down the streets like bulls in Pamplona. Of course there is the attraction of the power that emanates from the golden circlet. It seems to radiate a glow and a hum that attract the dishonest, the rapacious, seducers, flatterers, scoundrels and hypocrites in far greater numbers than the sort of person Diogenes was looking for, and many of them make moth-like crackling noises as they drift in a bit too close. One struggles to come up with a contemporary point of reference to help us grasp who Cromwell was. I suppose one might consider Thomas Cromwell to be a royal bug-zapper. There are other ways to see him of course. He was one of the greatest political fixers of all time. Think Olivia Pope as, say, Chief of Staff to the President. But whereas the fictional Olivia occasionally manifests the odd scruple, the real-world Thomas appears to have manifested fewer. In a similar vein, I suppose we might see him a consigliere to H8’s Don Corleone, or maybe Tony Soprano. Maybe Kissinger or Pat Moynihan to Nixon? Cromwell by Holbein and Mark Rylance as TC - from the Guardian He is considered to be one of the most ruthless human beings of his time, in seeing that the king’s word was made flesh. Already married, but wifey does not pop out a male heir? What’s a king to do? Why, twist, turn, beg, borrow, steal, threaten, intimidate, and murder until you get your way. Spoiled children with their own states are fond of such behavior. Of course, to a large extent, one must engage in these forms of feces flinging and head-lopping at one remove, as kings are too proud to be seen with their hands so filled, whether with their own droppings or axe handles. Thus the presence of people like Thomas Cromwell. Thank you, your majesty, I’ll take that now. Since the Catholic Church was all that stood in the way of Henry VIII getting what he wanted, H8 sought to remove it. Seizing the church’s real estate and other holdings would be a nice bonus. Selling off the stolen bits would help pay for the ever-popular urge to go to war with France. And setting up his non-ecclesiastical self as the head of his own sort-of Catholic Church, the Anglican Church, meant that, in addition to visiting horrors on the RC he would be claiming even more divine rights. And this lunatic convinces himself that God wanted this. A bit self-serving, no? Sheesh!H8 by Holbein - from Wikimedia -- and Damian Lewis - BBCSo, you would expect that in Hilary Mantel’s rollicking tale of Tudor England, Cromwell would be painted in rather dark shades. The author offers something other. Hogwarts DA Masters notwithstanding, the darkest of the dark arts is the power of manipulation. The proper words tossed near the proper ear can wreak devastation no less awful than an armored division. Cromwell is portrayed as a practitioner of 16th century RealPolitik, someone who uses his rapier wit, his power, his capacity for manipulation, his wide knowledge of the world, and his deep intelligence to serve his king. Is he in it mostly for himself? Maybe. Probably, but he is shown in small bites, talking to this one, planting spies, chatting with that one, nuancing everyone within reach to see things his way, the king’s way, and he sees that more direct action is taken when words alone will not do. Cromwell, both the real one and his fictitious doppelganger, is a pretty interesting guy, rising from modest (and, if Mantel does not mislead, abusive) origins, dashing off to soldier for hire, becoming expert in international trade of various sorts, making very useful friends and connections along the way, becoming a lawyer, and with his contact list and rep for discretion, rising as far as a low-born can rise in Tudor England. I am sure that, had he shown an inclination towards the culinary arts, he might have been considered a Man for All Seasonings. (sorry)He is our window on the Tudor era. Regardless of the accuracy of the portrayal, as a literary device, Cromwell is ideally placed to allow us a look into many of the machinations of the era. Questionable prophetess, the Holy Maid of London, making life uncomfortable for a wandering king? Cromwell is there. Both to hear her speak and see her burned. Anne Boleyn plotting to get around the Church’s refusal to annul H8’s marriage? Yep, TC is right in the middle. The population being laid waste by a plague sweating disease? He loses family. Cromwell was a real-life Zelig of the era, with a hand in every historical pie. What motivates Thomas Cromwell? He moves through the novel like an avatar of the author, a witness to the things the author wants us so know, but lacking much of a personality himself. The delightfully acerbic wit he manifests is hardly unique to him in this telling. One might point to his ambition, and there are certain decisions he makes or directions he takes that offer some guidance, but I never really got much of a feel for what really makes Thomas tick. Is Thomas Cromwell Horatio Alger, an exemplar of hard work, smarts and ambition paying off in the end? Is he a model for the notion that power corrupts? Does he really have morals, or merely goals? Is he a religious extremist or a technocrat? In a recent theatrical production, the writers took this problem in hand and decided to anchor their production on Cromwell’s quest for vengeance on all those who had seen to the toppling of his mentor and father figure, the larger-than-life Wolsey. (I absolutely see Sidney Greenstreet in my tiny mind as Wolsey) That makes a lot of sense, lending a core of cohesion to a sequence of loose scenes, a lot of this-happens-and-then-that. Anne Boleyn by unknown and Claire Foy in the roleWell, Thomas is only one element here, albeit the largest. It is the era that Mantel brings to life. It was a time of big change. H8 may be established in our 21st century minds as a solidly placed monarch, but the security of his line was very much in question, thus the freaking out about producing a male heir. The Protestant Reformation was underway and the world was in flux. Plagues…um…plagued Europe and the enlightenment was far in the future. While this look at the Tudor era is gruesome, enlightening and fun, it also shines a light, as good historical fiction does, on contemporary concerns. Torture? Check. Religious extremism? Check. TC is seen by at least one writer as a Tudor version of ISIS. Privacy concerns? Check. Government abuse of authority? Check. The one percent riding roughshod over the rest of us? Check. National wars for private purposes? Check. Issues of separation of church and state? Check. So, for those of you who have not yet taken on this large novel, and it’s younger siblings, one born, the other gestating, keep an eye out for how the Tudor era contains many of the same conflicts we endure today. Of course one might despair by doing this. Really? We have learned nothing in five hundred years? But one might also see some universality in the human condition, across time and space. There are many, many characters in Wolf Hall. Mantel has included a nice list of them at the front of the book. I found I needed to refer to it frequently. It can be a bit daunting to keep track of what is going on, or to discern who is talking to whom, particularly when so many of the names are used by multiple characters. Most particularly, there are more Toms here than at a convention of male cats held in a turkey farm, enough Johns to construct a considerable public lavatory, as well as herds of Harries and Henries, Annes, Katherines and Marys, and probably a few more household names that repeat uncomfortably often. You will be needing that chart. That said, realizing that TC is the author’s and thus the readers’ eyes on pretty much everything helps. There is a very different take here on Thomas More than the one we are accustomed to. A Man For All Seasons presented More as a moralist, one who stuck by his principles in opposing H8’s desire to be rid of wife #1 in favor of wife #2. In this version we are shown a Thomas More who is much more an Ayatollah than a serene wise man, as much a political player as a man of the cloth. He happily sends to the torturer and the executioner those who oppose his views. Mantel shows a bit of sympathy for H8 trying to dismantle an organization that includes such dark prigs. Thomas More by Holbein and Anton Lesser in the roleThe novel does not tie up neatly. There are two more volumes after all, and those who remember their history, or who, like me, are memory-challenged and need to look such things up, know how it ends, anyway. It is the journey through this often dark age that is the treat. The wit alone would have been enough for me. The feel for the time adds depth. The novel and it’s younger sib have become the source material for both a BBC miniseries and stage productions in Britain and the USA, and seems to be gathering cultural strength and presence as more branches extend from the Wolf Hall tree. Can the graphic novel and the Barbie Anne Boleyn be far behind? The series from the Beeb has already aired on the east side of the pond, and is scheduled to begin on Easter, April 5, here in the states. In short, for a book with a considerable page count, and covering thirty five years of English and European history, the results of most of which we already know, Wolf Hall is an engrossing read, rich with all-world-large personalities, bristling with sharply barbed wit and intelligence, richly appointed with intrigue and betrayal, red with blood, and great fun to read. There are sections that sag a bit, but keep on, there will be another scene just around the bend that will make you smile and sometimes even laugh out loud. And there are passages that will transport you with their beauty and insight.BTW, the title, Wolf Hall refers to the residence of the Seymours (the family serving up one of theirs to be counted among the many wives) and is a takeoff on a Latin saying, homo homini lupus est, or ‘man is a wolf to man.’ He is indeed, and what big teeth he has. Review posted – 4/3/15Publication date – 4/30/2009=============================EXTRA STUFFLinks to the author’s personal, Twitter, Google + and FB pagesA nice article from the Telegraph about the historical TC AnotherFab item by Mantel in the NY Review of Books on how her characters should be played Interview with Mark Rylance, who plays TC in the BBC production. He has no doubt there are parallels between Cromwell’s time and our own. “Although we’re not ruled by a sociopathic 14-year-old king, we seem to be ruled by a group of people who are completely in the service of corporations as much as the kings were in the service of the pope before Cromwell and Henry VIII changed the times.” I included a link in the body of the review, but in case you missed it Dominic Selwood of the Telegraph has a dark view of TC - Thomas Cromwell was the Islamic State of his dayMartin Kettle of the Guardian has a more positive take - Cromwell, the fixers’ fixer: a role model for our timesAn article from the NY Times about the upcoming mini-seriesIn his NY Times column, Timothy Egan looks at Steve Bannon as a modern day Thomas Cromwell - The Bombs of Steve Bannon - March 10, 2017
    more
  • Emily O
    December 14, 2010
    Do you ever wonder about why people choose to read the books they do? Well, I can tell you, I read Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel because it won the Book Prize For Fiction in 2009. You see, The Children's Book by A.S. Byatt was nominated for the Booker in 2009, but did not win. Curious to see what book could beat one of my favorite books of all time, I looked up Wolf Hall. And what do you know, it's another piece of historical fiction set in England and written by a woman. This could be interesting! Do you ever wonder about why people choose to read the books they do? Well, I can tell you, I read Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel because it won the Book Prize For Fiction in 2009. You see, The Children's Book by A.S. Byatt was nominated for the Booker in 2009, but did not win. Curious to see what book could beat one of my favorite books of all time, I looked up Wolf Hall. And what do you know, it's another piece of historical fiction set in England and written by a woman. This could be interesting! I was intrigued, so I picked it up from the bookstore, determined to see if it was really better than The Children's Book.Well, dear readers, I am sorry to say that it was not. I had such hopes for this book. It is set during the time of King Henry VIII, whom we all know was an interesting character in English history. The main character and narrator of the book is Thomas Cromwell, about whom there has been much speculation. Other main characters include Anne Boleyn, Thomas More, and Queen Katherine. I went into this book expecting the best, but I was sorely let down on every front. Wolf Hall was an exercise in disappointment.First of all, I have to say that the writing was of a fine literary quality. I have no doubts that Hilary Mantel has a strong grasp of the English language, which is not something I can say about some authors I've read. Her only stylistic flaw was the tendency to put little artsy cliffhangers at the end of each section. I got the feeling that she didn't want to end a section without putting something that sounded either meaningful, artistic, or foreboding. While that can be a good technique when used sparingly, it came off feeling very contrived to me, like she was trying a little too hard. By the time I got to the middle of the book, which is a good 600 pages long, I was over it.The main problem with this book was its lack of both character development and plot. First, the plot. I got to the end of the book not really sure what the point was. Quite frankly, I was expecting there to be more pages, because I didn't feel like the book had gone anywhere or come to any kind of conclusion yet. That is not a feeling I like. There was no climax, no conclusive event, nothing that tied together all the disparate happenings throughout the book. I felt like I was reading a series of events rather than a novel.That would have been fine with me, had the characters made up for it. I don't need a plot-driven book if there is enough character development to make it character-driven. Sadly, this book fails on all fronts when it comes to characters. Our narrator, Thomas Cromwell, is so nebulous that he almost doesn't have a character to develop. His defining traits consist of a willingness to please the people he works for, a gift for business and diplomacy, and a tendency to treat his underlings well. That's what we start with at the beginning of the book, and that's what we're left with at the end. I had trouble believing he had aged at all throughout the course of the novel simply because he changed so little. Sadly, all the characters in the book are relatively similar to him, if not in character traits, than in voice. Though they are described as being very different, I had trouble distinguishing between characters. While their political leanings may have been different, there was hardly a difference between the voices of Thomas More, Anne Boleyn, or any other character. Mantel should take note that dialogue without tags or quotation marks (which is a device I actually like when used correctly) only works if the characters are distinct enough not to need them. Sadly, this was not the case in Wolf Hall.There were a few things I liked about this book. Like I said, the writing itself was not bad, which is always a positive thing. I enjoyed that Mantel gave a fresh perspective on some very tired historical figures. I can't tell you how many saintly depictions of Thomas More I've read in my day, so it was nice to see him in a different (read: heartless and heretic-burning) light. Still, this book was mostly a let-down. It wasn't terrible enough for me to hate it, but rather squarely mediocre in every category. In my opinion, Wolf Hall should not have beat The Children's Book for the Booker prize, and I do not recommend it. Rating: 3No character development, very little plot, mediocre overall. Not recommended.
    more
  • Ana
    January 21, 2016
    BR with Hayat 2.5 StarsThese Tudor memes are amazing. They're worthy of losing your head over. Dear oh dear where do I begin... I've always been fascinated by the Tudor Dynasty, especially Queen Elizabeth I. And since I'm obsessed with Anne Boleyn, I thought this would be a perfect book for me. It's well-written... but sadly far from perfect. Reading this book was no easy task. Wolf Hall isn't terribly difficult to understand, as some claim. The problem lies with the main character. I have n BR with Hayat 2.5 StarsThese Tudor memes are amazing. They're worthy of losing your head over. Dear oh dear where do I begin... I've always been fascinated by the Tudor Dynasty, especially Queen Elizabeth I. And since I'm obsessed with Anne Boleyn, I thought this would be a perfect book for me. It's well-written... but sadly far from perfect. Reading this book was no easy task. Wolf Hall isn't terribly difficult to understand, as some claim. The problem lies with the main character. I have no sympathy for Mr. Cromwell. If I don't like the main character from the start, I lose interest quickly. I was not pleased with how Anne was portrayed (my other main complaint about the book). I don't like the way the author handled her character one bit. I must collect my thoughts. But for now, I sit here... confused. Confused and gloomy. (I've been waiting for an excuse to post a Benicio Del Toro gif)Full review to come.
    more
  • karen
    March 22, 2010
    hilary mantel is such a tease. she calls her book wolf hall because she knows i have a crush on jane seymour, and then she just blah blah blahs about thomas cromwell for 500 pages, feeding me only tiny bites of jane. sigh. me and hil have always had a rocky history.i have read four of her books now, and have only really liked one; beyond black. but i keep trying. this one was for class, but i probably would have read it anyway, because this summer i read a nice fat bio of henry VIII and really e hilary mantel is such a tease. she calls her book wolf hall because she knows i have a crush on jane seymour, and then she just blah blah blahs about thomas cromwell for 500 pages, feeding me only tiny bites of jane. sigh. me and hil have always had a rocky history.i have read four of her books now, and have only really liked one; beyond black. but i keep trying. this one was for class, but i probably would have read it anyway, because this summer i read a nice fat bio of henry VIII and really enjoyed a lot of "characters" in his court. but it is so frustrating, reading historical fiction or biographies. this is only my third tudor book (because, yes, i totally read the other boleyn girl), and the malleability of history and the filters through which authors present these people is terribly inconsistent, depending on their own prejudices. i loved chupuys in the weir book, but here he is so foppish and weird - like a less fuckable david bowie in labyrinth. sometimes mary boleyn is a victim, sometimes she is cold and calculating, sometimes she is just a party girl depending on who is telling me the story. damn apologists. there were sections of writing i loved here, but most of it was flat, to me.i thought the opening was great, and the last 60 pages or so were fairly rollicking, but for some reason much of the middle seemed arid, but peppered with episodes i loved. i am glad that i read it, and a lot of my resistance may have just been my poor fever-riddled brain's inability to concentrate for any reasonable period of time, but i'm not swayed to mantelmania just yet. try try again.addition: can someone help me with this, because i am getting conflicting opinions from people i trust equally. please tell me how to pronounce "chupuys". one smart person said it was pronounced "cha-pwah", and another smart person made it rhyme with "pepys". fix this rift for me please.
    more
  • Kaylene
    May 19, 2012
    Unfortunately I gave up on this book at page 84. I'm really disappointed that I was unable to get into this book as so many have raved about it. I just found the prose exceptionally dense and confusing. At times I was confused as to who was 'speaking' and couldn't follow it.Oh well.....next!
    more
  •  ~Geektastic~
    June 2, 2011
    I have always been fascinated by the history of England under the Tudors, particularly Henry VIII. I chalk this up partly to a morbid fascination, and partly to a genuine desire to understand the circumstances leading up to the Golden Age of Elizabeth I. (Her family’s Whig hatred of Elizabeth I is one of the few things I hold against Jane Austen.) This being said, I have hidden plot spoilers, but I will not be held accountable for the “spoilers” of history. Well, to understand the circumstances I have always been fascinated by the history of England under the Tudors, particularly Henry VIII. I chalk this up partly to a morbid fascination, and partly to a genuine desire to understand the circumstances leading up to the Golden Age of Elizabeth I. (Her family’s Whig hatred of Elizabeth I is one of the few things I hold against Jane Austen.) This being said, I have hidden plot spoilers, but I will not be held accountable for the “spoilers” of history. Well, to understand the circumstances of Henry’s rule, there are about half a dozen Thomases that warrant examination, and Hilary Mantel chose Thomas Cromwell. Cromwell has not been particularly well-favored by history; he is most often seen as a shadowy, grasping commoner who rightly sealed his own fate by reaching too high above his station. Not so in Wolf Hall, thankfully. To those around him, Cromwell retains much of the shadowy, unreadable nature he has been granted by historians (or a lack of historical fact), but since we are granted a sort of over-the-shoulder look into his life, he soon becomes the calm center at the eye of Henry’s storm during the king’s “Great Matter”-- the divorce from his first wife Katherine of Aragon and the beginning of his separation from the church of Rome. Practicality, drive and natural talent are Cromwell’s greatest features, in history as in Mantel’s narrative, but what also emerges is his humanity.At the height of his prominence at court, Cromwell was painted by the famous portraitist Hans Holbein (the same painter that allegedly painted the ill-fated Anne Boleyn), and in his portrait, Cromwell appears fat, shifty-eyed and unappealing. This image is not the one I maintained while reading Wolf Hall. Cromwell is first introduced as a teenager (Cromwell doesn’t have a recorded birth date, so his age is always a guessing game), lying on the cobblestones of his childhood home of Putney in a pool of his own blood. Thankfully, things look up from there; Thomas is nothing if not resourceful, and he is soon on his feet and making his way through the world. His gift for languages, quick wit and a rather imposing physique (he is frequently said, even by those closest to him, to “look like a murderer”) all give Cromwell an edge in his dealings with the world at large, and when we next see him, he has risen from the gutter into the service of the (in)famous Cardinal Thomas Wolsey. When Wolsey meets his end, Cromwell sticks faithfully by him, but fortunately does not share his fate. Through a series of fortuitous circumstances and simple business savvy, Cromwell becomes a secretary and advisor to the king, becoming enough of a favorite to drag Henry out of his cloistered court to visit Cromwell during a serious illness, a favor the disease-fearing king didn’t even grant to his queens.As fascinating as it is to see Mantel’s imagining of Cromwell’s life at court, it is his home life that gives the most insight and makes him such a compelling character. Tudor England is not a time or place famous for marital fidelity (Henry VIII did have six wives, after all), but Cromwell is a faithful, loving family man. When fate robs him of much of his “true” family, he cobbles one together from distant relatives, wards and even his employees. In Mantel’s version of events, it is not pure, unadulterated ambition that drives Cromwell to the heights of courtly success, but his desire to maintain his family and raise them to a life of comfort and security, two things very hard to come by in a world of shifting alliances and constant intrigue. Essentially, Cromwell’s loyalty and assiduous attention to the king’s business is directly correlated to his love for his family, sometimes to the detriment of his conscience (Cromwell sided, though only in thought, with the rights of Queen Katherine). I was afraid at the start of this novel, seeing that it is so long, that Mantel would carry us all the way from the bloody stones of Putney to The (even bloodier) Tower. Cromwell is a historical figure, after all, and anyone familiar with the rule of Henry VIII knows that Thomas Cromwell does not outlive his king. Fortunately (for me, anyway) the novel runs its course through the fall, not of Cromwell, but (view spoiler)[ the earlier demise of yet another Thomas, Thomas More. (This isn’t a spoiler for anyone that knows their history- or watched The Tudors on HBO) (hide spoiler)] Thomas More is a figure much like Cromwell, in that history is not quite sure what to do with him. Was he the pure-hearted, conscience-driven martyr that many have asserted? Or, as Mantel portrays him, a vain, calculating religious fanatic with his eyes turned to heaven but his hands lighting the heretic pyre? No one can say for sure, but the relationship between Cromwell and More was notoriously difficult, with one aiding the rise of Anne Boleyn and the other refusing to acknowledge her, so Mantel had much to work with.Henry VIII, Cromwell and More are not the only historical figures we meet, of course. We see the fall of the haughty but faithful Katherine of Aragon and the bastardization of her daughter Mary; the rise of a vengeful, self-centered Anne Boleyn and the birth of her daughter Elizabeth (the “red-headed pig”); the unfortunate but eventually cheerful life of Anne's sister Mary ("the great whore") amidst the scheming of the other Boleyns/Howards; the emergence of Archbishop Thomas Cranmer (I told you there were a lot of Thomases) and the comings and goings of many lesser-known nobles. We only get a few brief glimpses of Anne’s successor, Jane Seymour, which seems at first odd and then prescient, as Wolf Hall is the name of her family’s estate. If Henry’s court was a tapestry, Mantel’s novel is much like the back of the weaving, where all of the threads reveal themselves to be convoluted knots, the ends indiscernible from the beginnings. In my limited experience, many writers of historical fiction seem concerned only with extremes; characters are either cardboard cutouts made from the remnants of third-rate high school textbooks, or anachronistic insertions that feel, at best out of place, and at worst positively irreconcilable to the times into which they have been unceremoniously thrust. Mantel doesn’t fall into these categories, thankfully. Her characters are fully realized, from queens to back alley mercenaries-turned errand boys and everyone in between. Thomas Cromwell is, of course, both the star of the show and her masterpiece-- the Cromwell she gave me was not the man I was expecting and I am so glad to be surprised. (view spoiler)[ In the end, we are left watching the bulldog tenacity (and loyalty) of Cromwell continue indefinitely into the future, as he sits at his desk at the height of his influence, little knowing what (we know) history has in store. (hide spoiler)]Aside from historical accuracy or the nuts and bolts of characters and place names, Mantel’s skill in the mundane is truly exceptional. I never expected to find so much humor in a novel concerned with what was an increasingly terrifying time in history. The everyday people that populate Mantel’s vision of Henry VIII’s court and kingdom are just that; they face reality with a combination of determination, humor and acceptance that I think many of us would see as nearly impossible, looking back as we do from an age of 80-year life expectancy and flushing toilets. I won’t give in and praise the “indomitable human spirit” of her creations, or create parallels between the political situation of the time with current events, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t thought about it.One of the most frequent complaints I have encountered in other reviews is the narrative choice of present tense. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t slightly thrown off by it at first, seeing as Mantel also has a tendency to forgo the use of Cromwell’s name in favor of pronouns, but I think it ultimately enhances Cromwell’s story. History has proven to be unreliable in his case, so why should fiction be any different? The story of Cromwell’s past is never totally clear, even to himself, and we see him slowly construct himself before our eyes and before the eyes of the world. Even his beloved Cardinal Wolsey never knew the specifics of Cromwell’s early life, and took liberties with the stories he told. The use of the past tense would make the story seem more solid, which is not so conducive to understanding as people would like to believe. Here, there is a sensation akin to watching over Cromwell’s shoulder that makes him both lovable and inscrutable; just as his past resides half in shadow, so his thoughts are partially obscured by the immediacy of the present. I think, ultimately, the use of the present tense in telling Cromwell’s story is a method by which to rob him of the unpleasant reputation he has carried through history as a calculating schemer and show him to be a much more impulsive and ethical man than is generally believed.After all of this, I can assuredly say that it was never the witch Anne Boleyn that held me in thrall, but rather “that devil” Thomas Cromwell.(On format: highly recommended as an audio book. The narrator of this edition was fantastic).
    more
  • Bookdragon Sean
    March 30, 2014
    Hilary Mantel sure knows how to write; her prose is eloquent and sophisticated. Stylistically speaking, she is very distinctive. Very few writers wield grammar the way she does; she uses every means of punctuation at her disposal to achieve real effectual writing. At some points her writing is simply beautiful, but there are also some real difficulties associated with it. This is a hard novel to read. It chronicles the life of Thomas Cromwell, and the narrative is focalised through him. However, Hilary Mantel sure knows how to write; her prose is eloquent and sophisticated. Stylistically speaking, she is very distinctive. Very few writers wield grammar the way she does; she uses every means of punctuation at her disposal to achieve real effectual writing. At some points her writing is simply beautiful, but there are also some real difficulties associated with it. This is a hard novel to read. It chronicles the life of Thomas Cromwell, and the narrative is focalised through him. However, at times it did become incredibly confusing. Mantel uses the third person, and repeatedly uses the pronoun “he.” But, who is the “he” in question? During one long piece of dialogue it became difficult to realise who was speaking. Both the Duke of Norfolk and Thomas were having a pretty in depth discussion about politics and so forth, both were referred to as “he” frequently. This may sound unusual, but if you‘ve read this book you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. This meant that in order to understand this novel, and perhaps even enjoy it, it demands your full attention. This is no light reading. The narrative is rich in depth and complexity. I had a few problems with some passages, so I read them again and got the gist of things. But, I really do think this would put many readers off. This requires an attentive and patient person. Also, a solid grasp on the history is vital. Mantel does not hand you the facts; she tells you Cromwell’s life story, but the rest is up to you. If you can get over these obstacles, as I did, then what develops is a fantastic portrayal of Tudor England, and Thomas Cromwell’s life. Trust me; this book’s worth sticking with. Cold, cold Cromwell So, if you’ve made it this far into my review, you’ll want to hear about the positives. Cromwell is an incredibly interesting historical figure, and Mantel’s portrayal of him is superb. She has evoked the essence of a self-made man who gained the ear of the King, through nothing but his own personal merits, which eventually lead to his sovereign’s complete trust. However, Cromwell is also very emotionless. He’s driven with ambition, to fulfil all that he can with his intellect, but he shuts out the rest of his life in the process. He loses a lot of family, but he gets over it very, very quickly. What he experiences would have broken most people. By portraying such a thing, Mantel demonstrates Cromwell’s resolve. This gives him the heartlessness to succeed in the backstabbing world of Tudor politics; it gives him the nonchalance to betray and to use people as he climbs the social ladder. But, what goes around comes around, if you know anything about history, you’ll know what fate the wheel has for Cromwell. Cromwell’s relationship with Wolsey is an apt foreshadowing. I’m digressing here, my point is that Cromwell isn’t a very nice man; he isn’t heroic or likable, only resourceful and cold. He had to be to survive and become more than he once was; he had to be to gain the ear of the King, and to point him in the direction of Wolf Hall. "The trouble with England, he thinks, is that it's so poor in gesture. We shall have to develop a hand signal for ‘Back off, our prince is fucking this man's daughter.’ He is surprised that the Italians have not done it. Though perhaps they have, and he just never caught on." >Final thoughts- This is a great read, but it does require a great deal of focus. I love Mantel’s style of writing, and having already read the second book, I know the problems are worked out of it a bit. But, for this book, my enjoyment was hindered by having to re-read certain passages where the writing was at its extremist. The wonder of this work resides in its historical detail, its characterisation and its creative way of making the mundane details of life seem marvellous.
    more
  • Jennifer (aka EM)
    August 4, 2012
    First off, I find the whole notion of the monarchy - any monarchy - absurd. And also, despite being a citizen of a Commonwealth nation with Her Royal Majesty's mug plastered all over my bills and coins, the Union Jack incorporated into my provincial flag, and a mom who dragged me out of bed at 4 a.m. to watch Lady Diana, Princess of Wales walk to her doom - err, groom - I am not, nor have I ever been, a monarchist.I honestly don't remember what kind of history I was taught in school, but the Roy First off, I find the whole notion of the monarchy - any monarchy - absurd. And also, despite being a citizen of a Commonwealth nation with Her Royal Majesty's mug plastered all over my bills and coins, the Union Jack incorporated into my provincial flag, and a mom who dragged me out of bed at 4 a.m. to watch Lady Diana, Princess of Wales walk to her doom - err, groom - I am not, nor have I ever been, a monarchist.I honestly don't remember what kind of history I was taught in school, but the Royal Lineage (aren't you supposed to capitalize everything to do with Them? or is that just God?) wasn't, as I recall, on the curriculum or more likely, I wasn't paying attention if it was. So - entering this book - tea-soaked brain and lover of the superfluous 'u' in labour, favour, rigour, honour aside - I was a blank slate. All I know of Henry VIII is that he had and had killed a lot of wives and you need a big ole' turkey leg as a prop if you're planning a Hallowe'en costume.I loved Wolf Hall. And, I'm going to talk about why, but let me start with the caveat that Simon E's review (which convinced me to read this) and also Clif H's and David G's will give you more and better insights into a lot of what makes this book so fabulous, i.e., the nuance and energy of the writing, the detail and precision of it, and - in short - what it's about.'Coz all that is important, but while I cared about it (and especially, the knotty problem of the non-specific third-person, which I *will* comment on shortly), that's not what mattered to me.Thomas Cromwell mattered (matters) to me. So I'm going to talk about character - and specifically Thomas Cromwell - and that's pretty much all I'm going to talk about because for me: he was the book; the book was him. It's as though Mantel had to wrestle him onto the page, he's so big. I totally understand - as pointed out in The Atlantic's recent blurb about Bring Up The Bodies - why she decided to extend this book into a series - and ended up needing three books to get through his life.She can't leave the guy. And I didn't want to, either.Now - here's where my lack of English history comes in: I have no idea who he is, who he really is (does anyone?) nor have I read anything else about him, biographical or fictional. Although I was provoked to learn more about him at about the point where Mantel started to hint around at him getting remarried and I wondered, to whom? among the lucky dames swirling about him, all of whom seemed eager to get a piece of the mighty fine Mr. Cromwell, even though he "looks like a murderer."Mantel portrays him as a man of massive charisma, a 16th-century James Bond, smooth, suave, eminently capable and a little dangerous, his vast knowledge stemming from sources unknown but slightly shady. Cromwell can judge the quality of a Turkish rug, spatchcock a songbird, and kill a man with a single knife twist all before cocktail hour and without breaking a sweat.In terms of seeking more in the way of biography (with some need to reconcile Mantel's portrayal with reality - but, I now think, why?) I only went as far as wikipedia. There, I learned with some sadness what eventually became of him. Ceridwen said somewhere about reading books about The Plague that it's always so horrible because you know how it's going to end, that everyone is going to die, but it still hits you like a ton of bricks when they do.But Cromwell doesn’t die here, nor does Boleyn, although a lot of other people do – and in some pretty horrifying ways. Burning, disembowelling – Mantel doesn’t flinch when presenting the many and gruesome deaths – and more to the point, she has her readers contemplate them in the same way that the condemned are: showing us scenes of anticipation and preparation that are gut-wrenching (e.g., the fellow - I forget his name, starts with a B - and the candle in the Tower), but which are also necessary to put us in the middle of this world, and feel for these characters deeply; to understand how a thoughtless word, a loyalty held too long, a momentary lapse in correctly sensing the shift in weather and whim can lead to ruin. And, in the process, making Cromwell’s accomplishments all the more stunning.With the single exception, perhaps, of Cromwell (who sticks out like a sore thumb; he's somehow different than the rest of these people; more 'modern'), it doesn't matter who you are, how hard you work, or what natural abilities you possess. None of these bears a direct correlation to fame, fortunes or outcome. It only matters who you are born to, whose favour you curry or attract, and what role the powerful want you to play in their chess game.What Mantel is showing us is the rise and fall from power of each of the most significant characters during this volatile time. The opportunities seized, alliances forged, compromises made on the way up – and how they unravel on the way down.Politics. Whether power is obtained by divine right or democracy, the humans at the heart of it – across time – are the same creatures, with lusts, greed, principles and passions for money, for sex, for respect, for domination.This is politics and history lifting off the page through the most extraordinary characterization – humanization, really. This is absolutely the best that historical fiction can be.Let me also talk about dialogue just a bit: it, too, is almost anachronistically modern. It’s especially so when it comes out of Cromwell's mouth. It's modern in the sense that it is dry, ironic, sarcastic, humorous and most of all egalitarian. When Thomas has a conversation with someone – but especially his wife and children – he is listening. He is listening with his heart and head wide open to other people’s feelings and desires, and with an empathy born out of his own abusive past. That is if not the key, certainly a key to understanding his personality.He has a psychotherapist’s ability to understand motivation: what people want, why they want it, how far they’ll go to get it. And then, he has an opportunist’s ability to insert himself in exactly the place he needs to be to help them do it.This dual- (tri, quadri-?) sided, chameleon-like personality – will the real Thomas Cromwell please stand up? – is Mantel’s incredible, extraordinary accomplishment here.He made me nervous. I had my sociopath-sniffer on full alert. He reminded me, at times, of personalities I’ve encountered in the corporate world: snakes in suits. All charm and manipulation and laser-like, greed-headed, power-seeking opportunism. They disguise their lust for power behind facile arguments about “win-win-win” and “trickle-down” scenarios and "their employees being their greatest assets," when really, they'd sell their own mothers for a shot at a C-level title and all the accoutrements that come with. They manage up and abuse down. But Cromwell – largely by virtue of the brain-busting non-specific third person POV that Mantel uses to bring us inside his head – is not a sociopath. Yep – he’s an opportunist. Yep – he’s a manipulator. But he’s not cruel. He does not use his extrasensory perception about people without compassion or kindness. Mantel shows us a Cromwell trying to get everyone what they need, help them position themselves appropriately - but some can't be saved. Some are going to be casualties of the bigger shift he sees coming.Also: he loves - really loves - children and animals (showing him with all those little dogs named Bella is not accidental). When Cromwell wins, it actually is true that a whole bunch of other people win – and those who don’t (Thomas More, e.g.), are not just on the wrong side of the power elite, but on the wrong side of the wave that is about to swamp this society: a reformation of manners, morality and social structure that will, eventually, triumph. As Cromwell envisions.There is a clear, strong sense here that Cromwell does not do what he does for personal gain (or at least, not primarily for that – that’s a happy artifact), but because he’s pursuing that vision of a meritocratic democracy in which beat-up little boys and used-and-abused little girls can grow up and get a share of the nation’s massive wealth (throughout much of his own lifetime, held by the Church).Ok, maybe that’s overstating it. His own vision, while expansive, while prescient, may not have been that progressive. But ... then again ... in both subtle and overt ways, we see Cromwell who is a man out of his own time, a notion that Mantel deliberately heightens through his style of dialogue, and his very thoughts which we are privy to via that third-person POV.He wanted to wrest the wealth away from the Church so the King could have it – but he ALSO realized that transferring the full weight of power previously held by the Church onto the King would be like cutting off your nose to spite your face. Instead, he wanted the power of the King to be supported by the will of the people. He foresaw not only the religious reformation that had to occur, but the political one: that together, these were the seeds of a constitutional monarchy that would rule only through the political will of the people.It is as though Mantel reverse-engineered the guy. I feel she must have said to herself: what kind of man would be able to engineer a precedent-shattering divorce for Henry VIII, the English Reformation – oh, and while we’re at it, the beginning of the English Parliamentary system? She knew it wasn’t Henry VIII himself – that someone else must have been the man behind the curtain, and that someone was Thomas Cromwell.So she built him – layer by layer, scene by scene. Starting on the first page, where the first paragraph shows him being beaten viciously by his father. We start with Thomas Cromwell as an abused child.I cannot emphasize this enough. He is an abused child who grows up to have deep compassion and exhibit remarkable kindness in a world that is, to our modern eyes, inconceivably cruel. The psychology of that can play out in any number of ways, but the horrific abuse and abandonment that Cromwell experienced is the crucible out of which his personality and all his later acts were forged.He is a man deeply in love with his first (and only?) wife, whom he treats as an equal.He is a tradesman, a businessman and a believer that, like him, all men have within them the same abilities. And so he is also a mentor and a teacher to them. (There is an extraordinary scene of him with a young boy that Thomas More had horrifically abused, breaking down with Cromwell. It is brilliant. I forget the character’s name now, maybe he was someone who went on to do something great in history. Or maybe he wasn’t; doesn't matter. It is Cromwell's connection with him that matters.) How many young men, pseudo-sons, does he take under his wing - orphans, ruffians, of low birth just like him?He’s a self-made man whose lack of rank in this society presents a constant hurdle but also offers him the ability to see an alternate reality.He’s an accountant, a lawyer, a biblical scholar. He follows the money, he makes the laws and he outreasons the priests and bishops with superior knowledge not only of scripture, but of how to use it to galvanize the masses. Calling him a ‘renaissance man’ – a descriptor Henry VIII claimed for himself – would be underselling him.What he is not: a liar, a bully, a thief, or a sociopath.And also what he is not is principled: he really doesn’t have any of his own. Loyalty, maybe; but not at the cost of his own skin or fortunes. He was absolutely tortured by the downfall of his mentor Cardinal Wolsley, but he also cold-bloodedly extricated himself from going down with him despite the personal trauma it caused him. And that is where Thomas Cromwell differs from most of us: he serves whichever master will enable him to execute his own vision, almost entirely BECAUSE he has no dogma of his own (Groucho Marx: “Those are my principles, and if you don't like them... well, I have others.”) He is surprised when, twice, he offers condemned traitors (including Thomas More) a way out, and they don’t take it – standing firm on their own dogmatic allegiance to principle. This is Cromwell’s biggest blindspot – also, the thing that enables him to survive.I have Bring Up The Bodies sitting right in front of me. I don’t know how long I’m going to be able to delight in the anticipation and delay my gratification.
    more
  • A.J. Howard
    February 15, 2010
    One of the most interesting things about history is thinking about perspective. Very few people lived their lives with an intention of being known as a villain of history. Yet I think all of us fall into the trap of thinking of the past in moralistic terms sometimes. This is a function of generations of storytelling and cultural indoctrination. There are facts that we don't ever necessarily learn, or at least can remember learning, that we don't pause to consider.My favorite thing about Wolf Hal One of the most interesting things about history is thinking about perspective. Very few people lived their lives with an intention of being known as a villain of history. Yet I think all of us fall into the trap of thinking of the past in moralistic terms sometimes. This is a function of generations of storytelling and cultural indoctrination. There are facts that we don't ever necessarily learn, or at least can remember learning, that we don't pause to consider.My favorite thing about Wolf Hall is how it turns previous conception of a much discussed period of history on its head, while maintaining complete plausibility. Maybe it was my Catholic upbringing, but I always thought of Thomas More as a great man of learning and advocate of free speech, while Thomas Cromwell was a ruthless, unprincipled yes-man. Mantel effectively exploits facts to make you completely reverse your feelings about the two characters. In truth, More was a religious fundamentalist, the man tortured and executed people who strayed from the Church's dogmatic beliefs, hardly a free speech advocate. Cromwell's rise to power would be inspiring if it occurred today, all the more so that he did it almost 500 years ago. Mantel almost does too good of a job of making Cromwell likable, but you are completely ready to buy it. I didn't realize this until I watched the film A Man For All Seasons and found myself becoming upset with its portrayal of Thomas Cromwell. I think this is Mantel's greatest accomplishment, she reverses 500 years of preconceived notions. The book isn't a necessarily easy read. Mantel throws you into the world and she doesn't give you a ton of exposition or remind you who characters are and how they relate to each other. I frequently had to consult the character list and the genealogical charts at the beginning of the book for a reminder. One night, I stayed up until 4 reading the wikipedia entry on the War of the Roses to refresh myself on that subject. (I actually highly recommend potential readers doing this. Mantel frequently references the events and it also gives you good context of why the production of a legitimate male heir was deemed such an immediate necessity.)The title Wolf Hall is taken from the estate of the Seymour family, minor characters in the novel. But the title accentuates what I would consider the theme of the novel, which Cromwell repeats to himself several times over the course. Homono homini lupus, man is wolf to man. Mantel's Cromwell is presented as a precursor to the modern politician. This is a hazardous occupation in a time where political missteps had much graver consequences than potential resignation accompanied by a lobbying gig as a fall back plan. In this way Wolf Hall could be labelled a political thriller. One of the thrills in the novel is how Cromwell manges to, excuse the bad joke, keep his head on his shoulders. Watch Cromwell survive the political crushing of his patron and political mentor. See him hazard the stormy rapids that was the Boleyn family. Marvel as he clashes wits with the great Thomas More. What makes this even more effective is the novel is very well written. Mantel does a great job inhabiting familiar characters and making them come to life. Unlike other fictional works that have dealt with the same period, none of the characters are cliched or one dimensional. Her Henry VIII is my favorite depiction of the much depicted monarch since Robert Shaw's. Here, he is temperamental and often child-like, but also as intelligent and goodhearted. And as a rule, any confrontation with the Boleyn sisters will likely be very entertaining. As it was for Henry, though in a rather different way. The plot tends to revolve heavily around such such confrontations. There will be plot movement, but most of the time it sets the scene for another meeting between Thomas and Anne, or Cardinal Wolsey, or Thomas More, or the Earl of Norfolk. Nevertheless, my favorite chapter of the book was one of the first, "An Occult History of England." This chapter is mostly exposition, but it works brilliantly as a kind of "how we got here."Combining politics, history, and legend, it reads like something Rushdie could have written. I enjoyed Wolf Hall much more than I expected to. Although I know how the story ends for all the characters, the novel kept me entertained until the end. Now that I think about it, the novel really reminds me of Robert Caro's first two LBJ biographies which detailed Johnson's rise to power. While they don't retell the traditional hero's journey, a non-mythical path to power can be more worthwhile and just as entertaining epic.
    more
  • Emily
    December 7, 2009
    Wolf Hall is the kind of book that gets better the more you think about it. Its protagonist is Thomas Cromwell: a villain in A Man for All Seasons but here a man with a family, a career, and a sharp way of thinking. He doesn't want to be a saint; he wants to apply his shrewdness and hard-won experience to make the best of a bad world. His feelings towards his family, as portrayed here, make him sympathetic, even likeable.The book introduces all the figures familiar to readers of other Tudor stor Wolf Hall is the kind of book that gets better the more you think about it. Its protagonist is Thomas Cromwell: a villain in A Man for All Seasons but here a man with a family, a career, and a sharp way of thinking. He doesn't want to be a saint; he wants to apply his shrewdness and hard-won experience to make the best of a bad world. His feelings towards his family, as portrayed here, make him sympathetic, even likeable.The book introduces all the figures familiar to readers of other Tudor stories, and Mantel is most successful at putting her own stamp on Cromwell, Wolsey, and Henry VIII. At times, Cromwell and his burgeoning business-cum-household seem so modern they could have come out of today's London. The author does not play it as a costume drama, though there are touches of historical detail that are revealing and convincing, especially in his domestic life.One linguistic tic mars the book. Mantel apparently refuses to refer to Cromwell by name, only by pronouns. Often, this confusingly violates the rules of English (or any language I know). The slightly breathless effect is not worth the confusion, especially in a novel whose style is otherwise uncontrived.The majority of these pages cover Cromwell's career as he advances from being Cardinal Wolsey's aide to Henry VIII's trusted advisor, engineering the divorce from Katherine of Aragon--a process that dragged over years while Anne Boleyn occupied a peculiar position as almost-queen. The book has similarly open-ended and ambiguous structure. The contours of what is included and what marks its end are strange. I would like to discover what this book is ultimately about and why it is called Wolf Hall, and I think that will require a rereading. Thus five stars, because I enjoy rereading even more than reading.(Edited after a second reading.)
    more
  • Annet
    May 16, 2015
    ‘Henry stirs into life. ‘Do I retain you for what is easy? Jesus pity my simplicity. I have promoted you to a place in this kingdom that no one, no one of your breeding has ever held in the whole of the history of this realm.’ He drops his voice. ‘Do you think it is for your personal beauty? The charm of your presence? I keep you, Master Cromwell, because you are as cunning as a bag of serpents…..’’'Someone asks him if he wants to confess. ‘Must I’?‘Yes, sir, or you will be thought a sectary.’Bu ‘Henry stirs into life. ‘Do I retain you for what is easy? Jesus pity my simplicity. I have promoted you to a place in this kingdom that no one, no one of your breeding has ever held in the whole of the history of this realm.’ He drops his voice. ‘Do you think it is for your personal beauty? The charm of your presence? I keep you, Master Cromwell, because you are as cunning as a bag of serpents…..’’'Someone asks him if he wants to confess. ‘Must I’?‘Yes, sir, or you will be thought a sectary.’But my sins are my strength, he thinks; the sins I have done, that others have not even found the opportunity of committing. I hug them close; they’re mine. Besides, when I come to judgement I mean to come with a memorandum in my hand: I shall say to my Maker, I have fifty items here; possibly more.‘'I love historical fiction and without a doubt this is one of the best, if not the best, history book I’ve read so far. I saved the last thirty or so pages for this weekend, just to read them slowly. This is a book to read slowly, to take it all in, the story, the love and the tragedy, the cruelty of the happenings, the poetry of the words….So I took my time with this book, but also because it’s not an easy to read story. Challenging in many ways. Like many readers probably I had to look back constantly to the Cast of Characters at the start of the book, who is who… and in the beginning you keep wondering who is telling the story. Who is he? Several possibilities but in the end, often the he is Cromwell himself. And the story goes to and fro with substories, locations, anecdotes, in time. So it’s a story that needs full attention 24/7. It’s like getting inside the head of Thomas Cromwell, witnessing his thoughts, views, feelings, and we witness the rise of Cromwell, as a son of a blacksmith to one of Henry VIII’s most influential advisors in times of turmoil, dealing with colourful characters such as Cardinal Wolsey, Thomas More, Anna Boleyn and many more. Fascinating. Cromwell the politician, the schemer, the emotional man, the compromiser, the protector, the cunning man, the vulnerable man, the executor, the business man, the family man… A lot of books have been written around Cromwell, but never one like this, such an up close personal portrait. This is what Hilary Mantel says: ‘I admire him for his tenacity, his endurance and his brilliant politician’s brain. He was a visionary, but a practical one. One of those rare people who can grasp the big picture and down the details.’A grand book, loved it. Note: Last night I stayed up late to watch all of disk one of Wolf Hall the TV series and I loved it too on screen. Had to get used to the actor who plays Cromwell, but he is growing on me. I got so inspired I started reading Bring up the Bodies today. And again... the first pages... beautiful writing, I'll take my time and read it slowly...
    more
  • Diane
    November 29, 2011
    I am a reader who thinks British history is fascinating, and I've long had a soft spot for the Tudors. That wacky King Henry VIII and his six wives! And that wacky Protestant Reformation that changed the world! What an amazing time!Sure, this period has been much-written about, but I love the fresh approach that Hilary Mantel takes in her Wolf Hall novels, which is to tell the story of Anne Boleyn's rise and fall from the perspective of Thomas Cromwell, a low-born lawyer who eventually became a I am a reader who thinks British history is fascinating, and I've long had a soft spot for the Tudors. That wacky King Henry VIII and his six wives! And that wacky Protestant Reformation that changed the world! What an amazing time!Sure, this period has been much-written about, but I love the fresh approach that Hilary Mantel takes in her Wolf Hall novels, which is to tell the story of Anne Boleyn's rise and fall from the perspective of Thomas Cromwell, a low-born lawyer who eventually became a trusted advisor to the king. Cromwell is clever, scrappy, and calculating, and someone you really don't want as an enemy. He also has a good sense of humor, and some of his witticisms made me laugh out loud. Cromwell is a captivating character, and the farther I got into this novel, the more absorbed I was.I remember all the hype around Wolf Hall when it was first published, and then even more hype when it won the Booker Prize. I tried to read the novel back in 2010, but at the time I couldn't get past the first fifty pages. The prose just seemed too dense, and I felt impatient.I decided to give the book another try after watching the excellent miniseries, which stars Mark Rylance as Cromwell and Damian Lewis as King Henry. Rylance was mesmerizing, and by the end of the first episode I had already downloaded the audiobook. There is some beautiful writing in Wolf Hall, and while the timeline is occasionally confusing because it jumps around a bit, overall the novel is well-plotted. It is on the longer side (my paperback had more than 600 pages), but hey, it takes a while to overthrow a queen, break with the pope, torture and behead some traitors, and then install a new queen. London wasn't built in a day! I think the author would be pleased to know that as soon as I finished reading Wolf Hall, I started reading its sequel, Bring Up the Bodies. And I was pleased to learn that Mantel is reportedly working on a third novel. I've become a convert to this Cromwellian way of thinking. Highly recommended for fans of historical fiction.Favorite Quotes"Suppose within each book there is another book, and within every letter on every page another volume constantly unfolding; but these volumes take no space on the desk. Suppose knowledge could be reduced to a quintessence, held within a picture, a sign, held within a place which is no place. Suppose the human skull were to become capacious, spaces opening inside it, humming chambers like beehives." "Beneath every history, another history.""Why are we so attached to the severities of the past? Why are we so proud of having endured our fathers and our mothers, the fireless days and the meatless days, the cold winters and the sharp tongues? It's not as if we had a choice." "The trouble with England, he thinks, is that it's so poor in gesture. We shall have to develop a hand signal for 'Back off, our prince is fucking this man's daughter.' He is surprised that the Italians have not done it. Though perhaps they have, and he just never caught on." "But it is no use to justify yourself. It is no good to explain. It is weak to be anecdotal. It is wise to conceal the past even if there is nothing to conceal. A man's power is in the half-light, in the half-seen movements of his hand and the unguessed-at expression of his face. It is the absence of facts that frightens people: the gap you open, into which they pour their fears, fantasies, desires." "'Let's say I will rip your life apart. Me and my banker friends.'How can he explain that to him? The world is not run from where he thinks. Not from border fortresses, not even from Whitehall. The world is run from Antwerp, from Florence, from places he has never imagined; from Lisbon, from where the ships with sails of silk drift west and are burned up in the sun. Not from the castle walls, but from counting houses, not be the call of the bugle, but by the click of the abacus, not by the grate and click of the mechanism of the gun but by the scrape of the pen on the page of the promissory note that pays for the gun and the gunsmith and the powder and shot.""No ruler in the history of the world has ever been able to afford a war. They're not affordable things. No prince ever says, 'This is my budget, so this is the kind of war I can have.'" "Fortitude. ... It means fixity of purpose. It means endurance. It means having the strength to live with what constrains you."
    more
  • Jean
    April 12, 2013
    Everyone knows about the Tudors. Even people not particularly interested in history know the bare bones of the story, and people world-wide all seem to have heard about Henry VIII. I suspect it is one of the most popular periods to study in English history with its cast of colourful characters, intrigues, passions, extremes, extravagances, important political and religious changes and mind-blowingly violent events. Why then was Wolf Hall such a slog to get through?For a start Hilary Mantel write Everyone knows about the Tudors. Even people not particularly interested in history know the bare bones of the story, and people world-wide all seem to have heard about Henry VIII. I suspect it is one of the most popular periods to study in English history with its cast of colourful characters, intrigues, passions, extremes, extravagances, important political and religious changes and mind-blowingly violent events. Why then was Wolf Hall such a slog to get through?For a start Hilary Mantel writes unconventionally in the present tense. She also seems to have attempted a strange stylistic form where she disguises the characters. The reader is forever backtracking through the pages to check who is actually talking. "He", I discovered, usually refers to Thomas Cromwell. The action does revolve around his life, but he is rarely named unless it is "He, Cromwell" and even this appellation is rare. Sometimes not specifying characters is just sloppy writing. Take the following sentence:"The evening before Fisher is to die, he visits More."Who is the subject in this sentence? (It comes at the start of a new section, so there are no preceding ones.) It is a simple sentence in which clearly "he" refers to "Fisher" doesn't it? Not by Mantel's rules it doesn't. "He", confusingly means "Cromwell".The names used in this period were extremely restricted, compared with our present-day choices. There were so many Thomases and Marys, Henrys and Janes - and Mantel has a huge cast of characters. The list at the front of the book runs to nearly 5 pages (and then there are yet more pages of family trees….) Even so, many peripheral characters are not in the list, and when they are their names are not used in a helpful way. Richard Riche should be an easy name to remember shouldn't it? Except that for some unknown reason Mantel sometimes refers to him as "Purse". Another instance is the character Thomas Wriotheseley, who is sometimes called "Risley" or even, obscurely "Call-me" (a very early reference to his saying "Call me Risley" near the beginning of the book.) An example running throughout the book is of a nun on the continent who makes prophecies against the king. She is referred to variously as "the Maid" or "the nun." Later on in the book she is referred to as "Eliza," and later again, "Barton." It is only near the end of the book when she is about to be put to death that she is given her name, "Elizabeth Barton" (and at this point I discovered her in the list of characters.) I have to assume that this was an attempt to reflect her diminishing status. When she may have been making what people believed to be legitimate holy prophecies, she had titles such as "the nun", and when she was discredited she was given back her simple lawful name. But it is the author who has done this! It is too obscure a point, if indeed it is deliberate, for a reader to easily pick up, especially when there are a plethora of other characters to sort out.Add into the formula a Thomas, Tom or "he" - or instances where the character is simply called by their title, "Duke", and the reader is lost in clouds of deception. Indeed it is almost as if Mantel has used obfuscation as a deliberate way to misinform and disguise who is talking, who the action is about, much as the Tudor times were about misinformation, deception and disingenuousness. Hans (Holbein - the painter - I was inordinately pleased to work that one out for myself without referring to "the list"!) sums up the religious situation, "Images, not images. Statues, not statues. It is the body of God, it is not the body of God, it is sort of the body of God. It is his blood, it is not his blood. Priests may marry, they may not…. The crucifix we creep to on our knees and reverence with our lips or the crucifix we chop it up and burn it in the public square…. Luther refers to "His Disgrace, the king of England.""The book appears at a glance to be an easy read. Most of it is conversation, and in a reasonably modern style at that - not a "forsooth" in sight. But Mantel's use of punctuation leaves a lot to be desired. Her overuse of the colon and semi-colon is frankly irritating. Why not start a new sentence occasionally? Plus the inverted commas (or speech marks) seem to be used in a very ad hoc fashion. The convention is that if inverted commas are not used when a character speaks, then this is to convey internal dialogue - the character is thinking. There are many instances in Wolf Hall where this is not so. The use of inverted commas seems completely random, which slows down the pace of reading and only serves to confuse the reader even more.The novel would have benefited from rigorous editing. The first half drags. Dozens of character are thrown into the mix and we get no sense of definition, or attempt at characterisation. Minor characters could easily be substituted for one another - they are so sketchily drawn. Women feature hardly at all, except in Cromwell's immediate family, and the many men drift in and out of the narrative in their wooden fashion as the reader desperately looks back to try and sort out who they all are. It does not help that the events are not chronological. Cromwell's memories frequently take on a life of their own and divert the "action".There are indications of an editor's hand however. The "cast list" is an obvious example. An editor probably informed the author that nobody except a Tudor scholar would make head or tail of the characters without one. If it was not Mantel's idea, then that goes some way to explaining why it is not fully comprehensive. Maybe a glossary would have helped further. Another anomaly which reeks to me of editorial suggestion, is the way the novel starts. The violence of Cromwell's father towards him is described in a gratuitously detailed and graphic way. Welcome to the novel. Is this what it will be like all the way through? Well no, actually. The only other instance of such an unpleasant descriptive account is the burning of a woman (a "Loller") accused of being a heretic. This is put in presumably to show the influence on a young Cromwell (as presumably the opening section was) - part of what made him the man he was. But this is an extremely long novel, and it is inappropriate to start a dry, lifeless tome with such an atypical style of writing. Unless, of course, the author has been told to "Start with something exciting. Get the reader interested!" In these ways, and more, the mechanics of the novel are far too evident. The reader should be swept up in the events, not have to plod through dull prose and linguistic contrivances. I do wonder what other authors would have made of such promising material. Tracey Chevalier would have made you care about each and every one of the characters, however despicable or duplicitous they may have been. The "cast list" would have been considerably pruned. Maybe Peter Ackroyd would have included more characters, but he would not have obscured who he was actually talking about! Neither would Simon Winchester, who would play up the consciences and feelings of the main players. Hilary Mantel has not decided how to focus her novel, or to give it any sense of purpose. She merely chronicles events from 1500-1535. The early years, when Cromwell was a youngster, are sketchily drawn. Most of the narrative is concentrated on the last 3 or 4 years leading up to the "Act of Supremacy" in 1534, whereby Henry was stated to be the Supreme Head of the Church of England. (It was a carefully worded document not granting him the title but acknowledging an established fact. It thereby gave him the power - and enabled him him to justify the action to himself - to divorce Katherine of Aragon in order to marry Anne Boleyn, in the hope that she would produce a male heir.) These were momentous times, set against a backdrop of similar riots and Reformations across Europe. These latter stages of the novel are more gripping, but as a whole it does not really succeed on any level except to present facts, and that would be better done in a textbook. Thomas Cromwell was evidently a "soldier of fortune" who was able to succeed in his life by variously using his skills of diplomacy to turn to any tide. Henry calls him "as cunning as a bag of serpents" to his face. And as Cromwell himself says to his son at one point, "It's all very well planning what you will do in six months what you will do in a year, but it's no good at all if you don't have a plan for tomorrow."This is about tumultuous times; the days when beliefs were being turned on their head, when the religious views of England were a source of derision or bafflement to Europe, when the ever-changing will of the king could lead to wise and revered clerics and scholars being showered with wealth, or being denounced as heretics, burned at the stake and disembowelled. An heir to the throne could at the king's whim be redesignated a bastard. It should have been a rollicking read. And Thomas Cromwell - or should I term him, "He, Thomas" - should have come across as a mesmeric figure, not the ambiguous shadow the reader is left with. This is an ambitious novel about the era, which disappointingly turns out to be a bit of a damp squib.
    more
  • Steve
    June 18, 2015
    15 January, 2008Dear Ms. Mantel:Thank you for submitting your manuscript entitled Wolf Hall. After careful consideration, we have chosen not to publish your work in its current form. However, we believe that with certain modifications, our mutual interests may be well-served. The senior editor in our Business and Management Division, Lee Gultender, has what we hope is an intriguing idea for you to entertain. He proposes that you use the same main characters from your present book as exemplars in 15 January, 2008Dear Ms. Mantel:Thank you for submitting your manuscript entitled Wolf Hall. After careful consideration, we have chosen not to publish your work in its current form. However, we believe that with certain modifications, our mutual interests may be well-served. The senior editor in our Business and Management Division, Lee Gultender, has what we hope is an intriguing idea for you to entertain. He proposes that you use the same main characters from your present book as exemplars in a sort of executive handbook. Certainly, the leadership principles applied (or misapplied) by Henry VIII, Thomas Cromwell, Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, Anne Boleyn, Sir Thomas More, etc. would still be relevant to this day. The competitive landscape in the modern economy is not so different from that faced by King Henry and his court. Consider the analogs: the Papal authority restricting Henry’s preferred modes of operation compared to regulators of today stifling proposed mergers and favored business relationships, or, the obstacles that Cromwell artfully removed compared to board room meetings where only one competing view can emerge. In fact, the Wolf Hall title itself, with its allusion to the Latin Homo homini lupus (“Man is wolf to man”) reminds us that the opportunistic Cromwell with his treacherous agenda would fit in quite well in our present dog-eat-dog world.Our editor feels that with his guidance, you could emphasize specific personality traits that would truly resonate among the readers of our business and management titles. To be frank, as currently written, your literary focus and subtle dialogue would severely limit your audience. If readers have any appetite left for protracted historical fiction, Sharon Kay Penman and Philippa Gregory will surely sate it. If, instead, you could couch successes and failures in terms of executive behaviors that brought them about, your characters would come alive with significance. Imagine the lessons to be learned, good and bad, from: » Cromwell’s impressive rise from working-class roots.» The conspicuous loyalty Cromwell showed to Cardinal Wolsey in the face of changing sentiments. » The benefits of knowing thy enemy – knowing his business, his language, his weaknesses. Cromwell used this awareness to great effect, and would no doubt do the same today negotiating with even the cagiest of counterparties.» It’s all well and good as the leader’s right hand to take opposing views, but as Wolsey demonstrated, you have to recognize when to give a rest, too, especially if those views are in every way antithetical to the king’s.» Same goes for Thomas More, maybe even more so. A principled opposition can be admired, but you may pay the ultimate price when failing to see the times when compromise is the only way forward.» Anne Boleyn, and to a lesser extent her sister Mary, learned the importance of using their assets well. However, they (and we) must recognize when those assets become devalued, say, due to profligacy. » As for Henry, perhaps the best take-away point is the one also observed by Mel Brooks: It’s good to be the king. Even if power corrupts, who is powerful enough to do anything about it?So in conclusion, Ms. Mantel, we remain very interested in your book if we can all work together towards these more commercially viable goals. If your original artistic vision can accommodate this change in perspective, please let us know.Best regards,Dean ArrowCarperHollins Publishers LLC
    more
  • Glenn Sumi
    December 12, 2015
    I don’t have much to add to the excellent reviews on here about the Booker Prize-winning first volume in Hilary Mantel’s Thomas Cromwell trilogy.Indeed, I consulted several of those reviews while reading this lengthy tome, especially at the beginning, just to help orient myself and see if I was the only one having a tough time with the names, characters and historical allusions. I wasn’t! Mantel certainly doesn’t "write down"; we have to keep up with her, even if it requires consulting the pages I don’t have much to add to the excellent reviews on here about the Booker Prize-winning first volume in Hilary Mantel’s Thomas Cromwell trilogy.Indeed, I consulted several of those reviews while reading this lengthy tome, especially at the beginning, just to help orient myself and see if I was the only one having a tough time with the names, characters and historical allusions. I wasn’t! Mantel certainly doesn’t "write down"; we have to keep up with her, even if it requires consulting the pages of names, places, charts and genealogical tables at the beginning.I’m not generally a fan of historical fiction, and know just the bare bones about Tudor history. (A recent visit to the Tudor room in London’s National Portrait Gallery did stoke my interest, however.)I knew Cromwell as a shadowy, manipulative figure skulking about in Robert Bolt’s Sir Thomas More play, A Man For All Seasons. Talk about revisionism; boy does this book ever turn the tables on the two figures.Mantel and her thoroughly researched, beautifully written yet near-exhausting novel eventually won me over.Once I figured out that “he” referred almost always to Cromwell; that the author was attempting to get deep inside Cromwell’s brilliant, calculating mind; that she also was showing how his humble background, abusive blacksmith father and subsequent peripathetic life after fleeing from home helped shape him and make him a self-made man who understood the way of the world; that he suffered his own personal pains first by losing family members to the “sweating sickness” and then by seeing the downfall of his mentor, Cardinal Wolsey; once I discovered that the floating, uncertain present tense narration, even though it lacks momentum, can offer up a sense of intimacy – once I grasped all this, the pieces began to fall into place.My favourite passages are ones like this:One tradesman the same as the next? Not in the real world. Any man with a steady hand and a cleaver can call himself a butcher: but without the smith, where does he get that cleaver? Without the man who works in metal, where are your hammers, your scythes, your sickles, scissors and planes? Your arms and armour, your arrowheads, your pikes and your guns? Where are your ships at sea and their anchors? Where are your grappling hooks, your nails, latches, hinges, pokers and tongs? Where are your spits, kettles, trivets, your harness rings, buckles and bits? Where are your knives?What superb prose! The rhythm alone is hypnotic, persuasive. But those nouns are alive, anchored in the real world. Mantel paints an entire society here. You can hear Cromwell the clever lawyer – who’s also the son of a blacksmith – present his case. And don’t forget the sinister final line that hints at violence.Here’s another passage:The world is not run from where he thinks. Not from his border fortresses, not even from the Whitehall. The world is run from Antwerp, from Florence, from places he has never imagined; from Lisbon, from where the ships with sails of silk drift west and are burned up in the sun. Not from castle walls, but from counting houses, not by the call of the bugle but by the click of the abacus, not by the grate and click of the mechanism of the gun but by the scrape of the pen on the page of the promissory note that pays for the gun and the gunsmith and the powder and shot.Again: what a brilliant sense of the way this society works. Why do we read historical fiction, anyway? It’s not merely for a recounting of facts. You can wiki that. Perhaps it’s to see a world recreated. To witness people breathing and talking and eating and gossiping and flirting and joking; perhaps it’s to witness people making bargains, signing documents; perhaps it’s a way of going back and seeing how A connects to B, and how B connects to C. Mantel does that. Throughout this book you feel like you’re in a room eavesdropping on a conversation; you’re watching that barge travel down the Thames; you’re tilting your head to see an embroidered rug on the wall (a common motif in the book); you’re seeing people who start off as incidental figures but, because of history, you know will end up eventually playing bigger roles. Little Jane Seymour. Mark the musician.You even get to watch as Hans Holbein paints pictures that will, centuries later, end up in that Portrait Gallery, to be seen by people who squint at the description, stand back and think: “Who’s that, again?”
    more
  • Mark
    December 31, 2011
    Putting this book onto my history shelf stuck rather in my throat. It is a brilliant story, wonderfully descriptive and emotive. It creates a great panoply of historical figures but falls far short of actually being just to them. By that i mean Mantel quite clearly sets out to unwrite the hagiographical picture catholic tradition has given to Thomas More. She points out, quite rightly, his brutal treatment of 'heretics' and his lack of compassion to those with whom he disagrees and seems even to Putting this book onto my history shelf stuck rather in my throat. It is a brilliant story, wonderfully descriptive and emotive. It creates a great panoply of historical figures but falls far short of actually being just to them. By that i mean Mantel quite clearly sets out to unwrite the hagiographical picture catholic tradition has given to Thomas More. She points out, quite rightly, his brutal treatment of 'heretics' and his lack of compassion to those with whom he disagrees and seems even to paint his martyrdom as some sort of ego trip. This rending apart of his character and historical place might be justified and I certainly think catholic writers need to face up to the fact that Thomas More was of his time and certainly not some sort of enlightened thinker who turned away from torture and cruelty. He did not. As with most men of power of his time the saving of souls, the bringing people back from perdition was of such central importance, their seeing God as a brutal tyrant was so entrenched, that at all costs heretics must be saved even if that meant killing them once they were forced to recant as otherwise God would make them suffer much more. This, thank God, is no longer the view of the vast majority of thinking men and women of faith but my point is it was in 1530. Mantel presents More as some sort of evil maniac but, and here is my problem, Thomas Cromwell is presented as the valiant defender of the poor, the downtrodden and the suffering Protestant. The book is a brilliant story, the descriptions are so clever and atmospheric that eyes hardly need to be closed in order to be there but it is the disingenuous creation of this brutal and cruel hypocrite as a man of nobility and compassion that made me very angry. Mantel conveniently finishes her story as Anne Boleyn , the woman who Cramner and Cromwell had raised to that position on the orders of the king through lies and the betrayal of the genuine and tragic figure of Katherine of Aragon, has just lost her second child in miscarriage. Elizabeth, her daughter lives, but anyone with a knowledge of Tudor history knows that that is the only living child Anne will have.Cramner and especially Cromwell then set out to destroy Anne Boleyn by lies and creations and abuses so as to leave the track free for the evil tub of disgusting lard that was Henry to abuse, manipulate and force himself upon 4 more wives and God alone knows how many more poor petrified women. Cromwell was a shite of the first order, in this brilliant fiction he is perfumed and polished into being a Robin Hood for the 16th Century. My real difficulty was being able to disassociate the excellence of the novel from the injustices and inaccuracies of the history. Inaccuracies not so much in historical fact perhaps but by their willful misinterpretation. I would be very interested to see how Hilary Mantel approaches Anne Boleyn's 'trial' and execution. I do not see how all the perfumes in Arabia could possibly sweeten Cromwell's little hand in all of that.(Have just begun the second volume:20:III:13; so I shall soon find out)The book is a brilliant story but would have been more easily swallowed by me had the character who headed that story been fictional rather than fictitious.
    more
  • ·Karen·
    June 10, 2012
    First off I'd like to say without the least reservation that Ms Mantel thoroughly deserves all the accolades she has garnered for this novel - and there have been some. She herself describes the process of writing it in terms of a sustained hallucination, as if she were in a film, occupying the same space as the main protagonist, with a ghostly overlap, watching the action unfold through the lens of his eyes. She describes her exhilaration once she got started, and I can well imagine that, it mi First off I'd like to say without the least reservation that Ms Mantel thoroughly deserves all the accolades she has garnered for this novel - and there have been some. She herself describes the process of writing it in terms of a sustained hallucination, as if she were in a film, occupying the same space as the main protagonist, with a ghostly overlap, watching the action unfold through the lens of his eyes. She describes her exhilaration once she got started, and I can well imagine that, it mirrors the breathless elation that I felt reading it. There's something almost troubling in the sheer breadth and depth of her sorcery that makes you a little concerned for Ms Mantel's mental health, it's such a feat of imagination that you worry that she may have been possessed, and I fear for her once she has finished the third part of this project, what will she do then? How will she live? Will she be requiring the services of an exorcist or a time machine (possibly both?) before she can return to the 21st century?Then I'd also like to address this question of the notoriously ambiguous 'he', which some people apparently couldn't cope with. Oh come on. For the love of Riley, can you not just slow down and concentrate a bit? For one thing, it brings you as close as a whisper to Cromwell, and for another, it trains you as a reader to pay attention, to pay precisely as much attention to who is speaking and what he is saying as Cromwell had to employ himself. Reading as survival training: the literary equivalent of an assault course. And once you have absolved your initial training, you are in a position to match Cromwell in his reading of subtext, gesture, facial expression, tone of voice, and foibles; match his constant evaluation of social status, posturing, braggadocio, false modesty, fabrication; match his ability to fill in the gaps and ignore nothing, nothing, for nothing is unimportant. How about this for example? Cromwell has an audience with the king. There has been talk of a match between Anne Boleyn's sister Mary, Lady Carey and Cromwell's nephew. 'He', as in nearly all cases in the novel, refers to Cromwell:"Cromwell, one thing, and then we will have our breakfast, because I am really very hungry. This project of a match for my cousin Richard....."He thinks his way, rapidly, around the nobility of England. But no, he sees it's his Richard, Richard Cromwell. "Lady Carey..." The king's voice softens. "Well I have thought it over, and I think, no. Or at least, not at this time."He nods. He understands his reason. When Anne understands it, she will spit nails.The solution to this puzzle is given us two pages later when Cromwell imparts the news to the bridegroom-as-was:"The king says no. It is not because of my family, or your family - he calls you his cousin. He is, at this moment, his disposition to us, I would say it is excellent. But he needs Mary for himself. The child is due in late summer and he is afraid to touch Anne. And he does not wish to resume his celibate life."Richard looks up. "He said this?""He left me to understand it. And as I understand it I convey it to you, and we are both amazed, but we get over it."That's the sort of virtuoso reading that Cromwell has to do to survive. As a courtesy to him, we should make a bit of an effort too.And finally I'd like to think about what Mantel is doing, what anyone does, writing about the past, long dead and gone. She modestly claims she does history because she's no good at plot, so she lets history do that for her. But any historical novel reflects not only on the time in which it is set, but also on the time in which it is written. What filter does she put on the vision she has? One emphasis is certainly the gradual decline in the importance of lordly prancing and the rise of the cash nexus; another is (obviously) the shift away from legitimation of power through divine wand-waving towards the body politic, but a more subtle theme is also the question of the male and female world, which here usually corresponds with the public as opposed to the private. Cromwell is a kind man in private, with his women, and More is exposed as casually cruel in his dealings with his wife. Where it gets really interesting is when there is a bit of cross-contamination and the ladies enter public life. With little financial weight or political influence, what weapons can they deploy? There's really only access to what Diderot called the bijoux indiscrets. I got the distinct feeling that, slick as Cromwell was at reading the subtext in his conversations with men, he was constantly wrong-footed by the women. Well, if not wrong-footed, then at least surprised. Less predictable these women. Less likely to take the well-trodden path, as it was closed to them anyway. They had to open up new territory, play to their own strengths rather than compete on unfair terms. Anne Boleyn got where she wanted to be through her own wily, wiry strength, as did Cromwell himself. I can hardly wait to watch, fascinated, how this battle plays out, even if I know how it ends - getting there is the wondrous delight.
    more
  • Lisa
    February 23, 2010
    This book has inspired me to create a new bookshelf - one for unfinished books. I've been hearing a lot about this book. It's reaping praise, doing well on bookseller lists, and even won the 2009 Man Booker Prize. When I was at the library the other day, I saw this at the Book Stop and stood there for several minutes leafing through it, debating whether to get it. That should have been a red flag! I'll know next time that if it takes me that long to decide whether to get a book, that it's a sign This book has inspired me to create a new bookshelf - one for unfinished books. I've been hearing a lot about this book. It's reaping praise, doing well on bookseller lists, and even won the 2009 Man Booker Prize. When I was at the library the other day, I saw this at the Book Stop and stood there for several minutes leafing through it, debating whether to get it. That should have been a red flag! I'll know next time that if it takes me that long to decide whether to get a book, that it's a sign NOT to get it!I remember reading a review for this book a while ago; there was something in that review that made me not want to read this book. Unfortunately, I can't remember the specifics. Of course that didn't help me when I was in the library! I was desperate for books, and since it's a nice, thick book, and is doing so well, I picked it up -obviously.I started it today and tried to get into it. It starts out in Thomas Cromwell's boyhood, after he gets beaten up by his father in 1500. It picks up again in 1527. Later on, it briefly covers how he meets his wife and I think references a few other things he did. I say, "I think," because at this point I was skimming. I just could not get into this book at all.I know many people are raving about this book, and again I'm in the minority. There are many people involved in this whole political intrigue, so there are obviously lots of characters to keep track of. But I just didn't feel any drama or suspense or emotion or anything for Cromwell or anybody. I know Mantel is no Philippa Gregory, nor was I expecting her to be, but this book just fails somehow in a way I can't explain. And now I've spent more time writing this review than I've spent reading the damn book. Ok, not quite, but you get the idea!
    more
  • Matt
    March 9, 2013
    Frankly, most of what I know about the Tudors comes from watching Showtime’s The Tudors via my Amazon Prime account. So far, what I’ve learned from the Tudors by watching The Tudors is this: Boobs!!That said, it is very well likely that the problem with Hillary Mantel’s Wolf Hall is me. After all, it is a hugely popular, elegantly written, Man Booker Prize winning novel. Far be it from me to criticize it. But I will, since I’m here. Wolf Hall tells the story of King Henry VIII, his dalliance wit Frankly, most of what I know about the Tudors comes from watching Showtime’s The Tudors via my Amazon Prime account. So far, what I’ve learned from the Tudors by watching The Tudors is this: Boobs!!That said, it is very well likely that the problem with Hillary Mantel’s Wolf Hall is me. After all, it is a hugely popular, elegantly written, Man Booker Prize winning novel. Far be it from me to criticize it. But I will, since I’m here. Wolf Hall tells the story of King Henry VIII, his dalliance with Anne Boleyn, his divorce from Catherine of Aragorn, and his rupture with the Catholic Church. It is told from the point of view of Thomas Cromwell, an up-from-his-bootstraps kind of guy, a protégé of the powerful Cardinal Wolsey who becomes a fixer for the King following Wolsey’s fall.The saga is vaguely familiar, even to an ignoramus such as myself. At least, I remembered that Henry married Anne and eventually chopped her head off. Herman’s Hermits later covered the song. I also recall Thomas More, from half-watching while half-drunk A Man For All Seasons one night on Turner Classic Movies.Mantel’s twist on this story is to reverse our expectations of some of the major players. If you, like me, watched A Man For All Seasons (or half-watched while half-drunk), you’re expecting Thomas More (played by Paul Schofield in the film) to be the hero. Generally, he has been portrayed as a man of integrity and principal, who stuck faith even when it was no longer expedient to do so. The Catholic Church even canonized him after his execution. However, as portrayed by Mantel, More is far less likeable. To be sure, he still has courage on his lonely path to the chopping block. But he is also a bit of a jerk to his family, an extremist in his beliefs, and a torturer in his own right, putting heretics on the rack. (Heretics being people who read translated versions of the Bible). One of the joys of Wolf Hall is this historical tweaking. Mantel does not tear up the historical record and make things out of whole cloth. She just interprets the record differently, with a keenly perceptive eye. It is studied revisionism. I probably would have enjoyed the book a lot more if I had a better grasp of history. Then again, maybe I’d hate the book a whole lot more. The difficulty with Wolf Hall is its density. Mantel’s take on this story is micro in the extreme. It is a pointillist history, made up of a thousand tiny moments. Being so close to the story as it unfolds makes it difficult to follow the broader sweep of things. The plot moves forward by inches, through the dialogue of the characters. There is so much talking, so little doing, this could have been presented as a play. The density is compounded by the fact that merry old England apparently had only four names to choose from. The book abounds with a number of people all named Thomas or Anne or Mary. If you can keep them all straight, you’ve probably been able to watch more episodes of The Tudors than me. An early annoyance for me was Mantel’s use of the personal pronoun “he” instead of a proper noun. Often, I’d get halfway through a page and forget who was talking. Things got a lot better when I realized that “he” referred to “Thomas Cromwell,” through whom the story is told in third-person limited. Usually, I prefer nonfiction: biographies and histories and the like. From time to time, I try to keep trendy by reading popular fiction. And by “trendy” I mean reading a book that was published and lauded 4 years ago, and which already has a sequel. Typically, I like to read novels before I go to bed. Big mistake in this case. This is fiction that requires all of your attention. I soon switched my routine, so that I was reading about World War I and Gettysburg in the evening, and focusing my wits on Wolf Hall during daylight hours. (As a special bonus, I soon began having horrific dreams). I’ve made my own failings clear. I could have given a better effort to Wolf Hall. It’s just as true, however, that you are unlikely to read a book this long (530 pages in hardcover) in which so few things happen. It is talk, talk, talk. All dialogue all the time. There is not a single scene of action, sweep, or movement. There is paucity of dirty details regarding life in the 1500s (with the exception of the yearly fevers that culled the herd). The dialogue is good, I’ll grant you that. It is sharp, evocative, understandable, and yet never anachronistic. In this way, Wolf Hall is the inverse of Ken Follet’s monstrous medieval doorstops, with their prodigious research but milk-curdling dialogue.Still, in a book filled with back-stabbing, there isn’t the sight of a single dagger. In a book filled with the lure of sex, there isn’t any sex. The result is an artifact that I respected but could not love. Love requires passion, and the mannered conversations of Mantel’s fictionally-realized historical characters do not engender such. We all know where the story is going. Mantel shows us how we got there, step by step. She never bothers to wonder how it felt.
    more
  • Simon
    April 15, 2011
    Like many others, I thought this book was utterly brilliant. The pleasure of reading it was palpable, a tingling in my fingers. That kind of pleasure put me in mind of another book that provoked it, Yehoshua’s A Journey to the End of the Millenium, but I thought to myself, those books are nothing like each other. Then I realized that in terms of subject matter, they are not so dissimilar after all. Both revolve largely around the search for clarification of religious marriage law, in the service Like many others, I thought this book was utterly brilliant. The pleasure of reading it was palpable, a tingling in my fingers. That kind of pleasure put me in mind of another book that provoked it, Yehoshua’s A Journey to the End of the Millenium, but I thought to myself, those books are nothing like each other. Then I realized that in terms of subject matter, they are not so dissimilar after all. Both revolve largely around the search for clarification of religious marriage law, in the service of authorizing ‘unusual’ arrangements (polygamy among 10th century Jews in Yehoshua’s case, Henry VIII’s divorce from Katherine and marriage to Anne, in Mantel’s). But while the topic is definitely part of the pleasure of Yehoshua’s book, it is only incidental to the pleasure of reading Wolf Hall.No, that feeling I got in my finger tips when reading this book was coming from the buzzing energy contained in it. The book is about energy.* The energy of natural forces:Kratzer makes some drawings. He draws the sun and the planets moving in their orbits according to the plan he has heard of from Father Copernicus. He shows how the world is turning on its axis, and nobody in the room denies it. Under your feet you can feel the tug and heft of it, the rocks groaning to tear away from their beds, the oceans tilting and slapping at their shores, the giddy lurch of Alpine passes, the forests of Germany ripping at their roots to be free. The world is not what it was when he and Vaughan were young, it is not what it was even in the cardinal's day.The energy of the inchoate capitalism that is forging a recognizably modern world:The world is not run from where [Percy] thinks. Not from his border fortress, not even from Whitehall. The world is run from Antwerp, from Florence, from places he has never imagined; from Lisbon, from where the ships with sails of silk drift west and are burned up in the sun. Not from castle walls, but from counting houses, not by the call of the bugle but by the click of the abacus, not by the grate and click of the mechanism of the gun but by the scrape of the pen on the page of the promissory note that pays for the gun and the gunsmith and the powder and shot.The energy of the emergence of religion into the vernacular, through the translation of the Bible:As the word of God spreads, the people's eyes are opened to new truths. Until now, like Helen Barre, they knew Noah and the Flood, but not St Paul. They could count over the sorrows of our Blessed Mother, and say how the damned are carried down to Hell. But they did not know the manifold miracles and sayings of Christ, nor the words and deeds of the apostles, simple men who, like the poor of London, pursued simple wordless trades. The story is much bigger than they ever thought it was.And most of all the energy of Thomas Cromwell, a remarkable creation (I speak of the character in the book, whatever his relation to the historical person). Cromwell more than anyone understands these sources of energy and channels them, or embodies them in his person. He never stops. He is advising the king on how to deal with the Emperor one moment, the Boleyns on how to get Anne married to the King, the next, and finally the cook on how to prepare wafers or the foreman on how best to check bricks, the next. “I have that in hand” or “I must think about doing that (something no-one has thought possible)” are his constant watchwords. And behind this amazing energy a free-floating, almost calm and detached curiosity, about places (he has traveled a lot), languages (he knows them all), people (he knows everyone), the Bible (he supports its translation into English), bolts of cloth and Turkey carpets (he has traded in them copiously), food and horticulture (“He has fruit trees already, but he wants cherries and plums like the ones he has eaten abroad, and late pears to use in the Tuscan fashion, to match their crisp metallic flesh with winter’s salt cod”), and on and on.It is hard to see, from the book alone, why Cromwell has such a bad reputation among his contemporaries. Everyone is afraid of him, even the King we learn at one point; everyone says he looks like a murderer. And yet we, thanks to a very close third-person narration that makes us privy to all his thoughts and feelings, cannot help but see him as such a sweet person, kind and caring to those who are his charges, never wanting revenge, eschewing torture (contrary to More, who makes a very satisfying villain, priggish, tyrannical, self-satisfied, obstinate, everything that the pragmatist Cromwell is not). The answer to this near paradox, I think, this dissonance between how we see Cromwell and how everyone else in the novel does, is that in understanding and embodying all the forces that are changing the world, he appears to others who do not understand them to be almost diabolically effective. (Also, it must be said, he cultivates his reputation as a thug when it suits him.) One might say that he really is fearful and murderous in the way that change and the future are always, inevitably, fearful and murderous.A final comment on the language: Mantel’s writing in this book is stunning. It feels as if she has created a new way of writing just for it. It is mesmerizing, flowing in and out of Cromwell’s thoughts, swooping onto the smallest detail, pulling back to the widest scope, but always as restless and roving as Cromwell himself. (Many people have commented on the fact that Mantel uses “he” and its cognates for Cromwell without, in many cases, making it clear it is him that she is writing about. A single sentence can contain several male pronouns, all referring to different people, interlocking according to no rule of parsing. This can make the narrative confusing at times, but the confusion is certainly intentional on the author’s part. These confusions are like eddies around which the narrative flows, slowing the reader down and giving him/her something to chew on, to contrast with the inundating smoothness of the prose in general.)********************** ETA: After writing this I came across this quote from a piece on Mantel in The Daily Telegraph: "But when she finally came to Cromwell, she says, 'I felt the wait had paid off, because it was as though in the dark the story had been gathering power. When I wrote the first page I got such a surge of exhilaration, a charge, and I felt unstoppable. I felt such a burst of energy being lent to me by the character. And it wasn’t a book to write without a lifetime’s experience behind you. I couldn’t have thought myself into him when I was younger.’"
    more
  • Darwin8u
    November 12, 2012
    “It is the absence of facts that frightens people: the gap you open, into which they pour their fears, fantasies, desires.” ― Hilary Mantel, Wolf HallBrilliant. This is one of those rare novels that hits me on almost every level. The writing is crisp, deep and unsettling all at the same time. The narrative leads without pushing. Its prose sings but never strays into cliche. Every thread and sinew of this novel seems destined to weave into the body of this story's tapestry. Mantel is able to inv “It is the absence of facts that frightens people: the gap you open, into which they pour their fears, fantasies, desires.” ― Hilary Mantel, Wolf HallBrilliant. This is one of those rare novels that hits me on almost every level. The writing is crisp, deep and unsettling all at the same time. The narrative leads without pushing. Its prose sings but never strays into cliche. Every thread and sinew of this novel seems destined to weave into the body of this story's tapestry. Mantel is able to invert the standard feelings and assumption about everybody. Moore, Cromwell, Henry VIII all become more than characters in this historical fiction. They become epic myths; giants of time and space. Mantel is able to stretch and mold her characters into places where they seem to inhabit zones usually reserved for saints and devils. Mantel gives us both saint AND devil with Moore, Cromwell and Henry VIII. Seriously, if you haven't read this novel, put down what you are reading NOW and pick it up.
    more
  • Des
    September 30, 2009
    Am joining the club of haters of the imprecise 'he' insertions. Never got a clue who is speaking or thinking what. This book is not superior in craft and not superior in story line. Not sure why this got any prices.And changing time lines has to add value, to do it for the sake of it, is annoying to say the least. And quotation marks as well as commas at the right places seem to be a luxury these days.
    more
  • Nandakishore Varma
    July 6, 2013
    The English are a people, I’ve found, who are obsessed with kings and kingship, whether positively or negatively (one has only to look at the media hype surrounding the birth of the royal baby and the jokes on twitter about the same). Englishmen love their kings and queens, but are also extremely critical of them – most of which is expressed as underplayed sardonic British humour. This is why, I think, writers keep on dipping into British history and coming up with erudite historical tomes, stea The English are a people, I’ve found, who are obsessed with kings and kingship, whether positively or negatively (one has only to look at the media hype surrounding the birth of the royal baby and the jokes on twitter about the same). Englishmen love their kings and queens, but are also extremely critical of them – most of which is expressed as underplayed sardonic British humour. This is why, I think, writers keep on dipping into British history and coming up with erudite historical tomes, steamy potboilers and seriously written novels which shine new light on hitherto unexplored areas. Hilary Mantel’s Booker-winning effort, Wolf Hall, belongs to the last category.If one wants to choose an era in British history which is guaranteed to pull readers in, what other period than the Tudor age? The Oxford Illustrated History of Britain has this to say:The age of the Tudors has left its impact on Anglo-American minds as a watershed in British history. Hallowed tradition, native patriotism, and post-imperial gloom have united to swell our appreciation of the period as a true golden age. Names alone evoke a phoenix-glow – Henry VIII, Elizabeth I, and Mary Stuart among the sovereigns of England and Scotland; Wolsey, William Cecil, and Leicester among the politicians; Marlowe, Shakespeare, Hilliard, and Byrd among the creative artists. The splendours of the court of Henry VIII, the fortitude of Sir Thomas More, the making of the English Bible, Prayer Book, and Anglican Church, the development of Parliament, the defeat of the Armada, the Shakespearian moment, and the legacy of Tudor domestic architecture – these are the undoubted climaxes of a simplified orthodoxy in which genius, romance, and tragedy are superabundant.It is this “genius, romance and tragedy” which draw chroniclers again and again into the court of Henry VIII, inhabited by a lecherous king, a scheming queen, ladies of flexible virtue and gentlemen with ulterior motives. We are all familiar with Henry and his desperate attempt to produce a male heir; the clever and scheming yet ultimately ill-fated Ann Boleyn; Sir Thomas More, man of letters and spiritual leader; the voluptuous Mary Boleyn, an “easy armful” (to borrow Hilary Mantel’s words); Cardinal Wolsey, the king’s right-hand man till his fall from grace. A writer just has to dip his/ her hand in and draw out any of these characters, and the story would be already half-written, one feels.However, Hilary Mantel does not take this easy path. She draws out a shadowy character, enters into his mind, and shows us the Tudor court through a totally unfamiliar pair of eyes. The character is Thomas Cromwell, assistant to Cardinal Thomas Wolsey. A commoner without any aristocratic pedigree. The son of a blacksmith whose only strength are the bulldog tenacity of the survivor and a native cunning, honed to perfection during the period he wandered from country to country as a teenaged exile, on the run from his murderous father.The story of Henry VIII is common knowledge to anybody with a moderate understanding of history. A lothario of sorts, this much-married gentleman went through six wives in the desperate effort to produce a male heir, to make the kingdom safe from usurpers. Out of the six marriages, the one to Anne Boleyn produced such a schism that the church was fragmented – the Church of England, with the King as its head, split off from the Pope. Almost overnight, Catholicism was dead in England.However, the careful student of history will notice that this was only one of the many pretexts – the world was already pissed off with Popery, who appropriated the Bible as the sole property of the Church, to be read and interpreted by the clergy only. The worship of God was only possible through the mediation of these men of cloth, many of whom engaged in acts of extreme debauchery, kept mistresses, and sired bastards all over the place. The time for a change was nigh, and it was sparked off through Martin Luther’s fiery rhetoric in Germany. Henry’s personal rebellion was only a part of the big picture.***By early 16th Century, Martin Luther had set the Protestant Reformation in motion in Germany. He claimed that the Bible was the only true repository of divine wisdom, accessible to all; the priesthood had no role. Salvation was possible only through belief in Christ as the redeemer, and not through paying money to the clergy. Protestantism swept Europe. The Catholic Church was shaking in its foundations, when Henry decided that he wanted his marriage (a marriage of convenience) to his elder brother’s widow, Katherine of Aragon, annulled on the basis that it was illegal in the first place. But everybody knew the real reason: Henry wanted a male heir, which was impossible for the Queen who was now past child-bearing age, and also because he wanted to marry Anne Boleyn, with whom he was head over heels in love.The Church was not very amenable to the King’s demand. The pope cannot support a man who wants to cast away his lawful wife to marry his mistress! Moreover, the Spanish Emperor’s wrath was also to be considered. Archbishop Thomas Wolsey, Lord Chancellor, who was also the Papal legate, tried and failed – leading to his fall from grace and death in disgrace. Thomas More who followed him as Lord Chancellor was loath to entertain the temporal ruler’s demands over the dictates of the spiritual realm. Henry finally realised that to have his way, he would have to take control of his kingdom as no king has done before.Enter Thomas Cromwell…This relative nobody shot to prominence as King Henry’s right-hand man in this troubled times. All over England, heretics were being tortured and burned by the Church: in Europe, Catholicism and Protestantism were going at it with hammer and tongs. Deriving the king’s power from the mythical Lucius I of England, Cromwell and the Parliament passed a series of statutes which effectively made the ruler supreme sovereign of both spiritual and temporal activities in England. It was now treason not to accept the Crown’s supremacy; those who were the persecutors in the name of God, found themselves persecuted for treason. The boot was on the other foot.***Wolf Hall narrates the events described in the above paragraphs, while trying to inhabit the mind of Thomas Cromwell. I say “trying to” purposefully, because I do not think Hilary Mantel has been wholly successful in her endeavor. At the end of the novel, one is still left with a doubt as to what makes this man tick – a huge minus in a narrative which is primarily stream-of-consciousness. Cromwell’s overarching ambition and manipulative capabilities are well-etched, but the man himself remains a mystery (other than his contempt of the official church and his minions, which may be a possible motive for his actions).However, other than the protagonist, there are some fine character sketches. Henry VIII himself, pompous, idiosyncratic, sentimental yet ruthless; Sir Thomas More, cruel in his obsession with religion; the various dukes and noblemen and other royal hangers-on, intent only on self-advancement; Mary Boleyn, willing to use her feminine charms without inhibition for self-advancement; and last but not least, the seductive Anne Boleyn with her single-minded ambition to become Queen. As the novel progresses, these characters grow and obsess us, which is a sign of good writing.But Hilary Mantel’s style is difficult. There is a pudding in our part of the world which is very tasty but sticks to the palate, so eating it is a chore: the author’s prose reminded me of it. Most of the time, Cromwell is mentioned simply as “he”, which made it difficult to recognise who was referred to, especially while a group conversation was being described. However, the stream-of –consciousness method has an advantage that reveries can be inserted at any time, and the author can speak through her protagonist. Even though not essential to the tale at hand, some such interior monologues are very beautiful. I cannot resist quoting one.In the forest you may find yourself lost, without companions. You may come to a river which is not on a map. You may lose sight of your quarry, and forget why you are there. You may meet a dwarf, or the living Christ, or an old enemy of yours; or a new enemy, one you do not know until you see his face appear between the rustling leaves, and see the glint of his dagger. You may find a woman asleep in a bower of leaves. For a moment, before you don’t recognise her, you will think she’s someone you know.This is the world Thomas Cromwell (and I suspect, many of our modern politicians) inhabit.***Even though Ms. Mantel does not do anything to redeem the image of Anne Boleyn, some words she speaks are suggestive.Anne says, ‘I am Jezebel. You, Thomas Cromwell, are the priests of Baal.’ Her eyes are alight. ‘As I am a woman, I am the means by which sin enters this world. I am the Devil’s gateway, the cursed ingress. I am the means by which Satan attacks man, whom he was not bold enough to attack, except through me…’This passage left me wondering about the numerous political scandals in the modern world where beautiful women have played a part, and kind of attention media lavished on them, stripping and raping them through words and unspoken innuendos. No, the world has not changed that much, as far as men’s thinking is concerned.***P.S. While I was reading the book, the British Royal Baby came into the world at the same time as Elizabeth was born in the story. Coincidence? Maybe…At least, the modern-day prince will not have to fear the assassin with his hidden knife – only the paparazzi with his hidden camera. Thank God for small favours.The review is also available on my blog HERE .
    more
  • Dana Stabenow
    December 31, 2009
    Mantel has given a wonderful voice to Thomas Cromwell in this novel of an eyewitness perspective on Henry VIII's split from the Church of Rome. All the usual suspects are present, Katherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn, Cardinal Wolsey, Thomas More, along with a wonderful supporting cast of fully realized minor characters, whether fictional or historical. I don't know which is more painful to watch, Thomas More being viciously abusive to his wife and daughters over lunch, or Cromwell as a child watchi Mantel has given a wonderful voice to Thomas Cromwell in this novel of an eyewitness perspective on Henry VIII's split from the Church of Rome. All the usual suspects are present, Katherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn, Cardinal Wolsey, Thomas More, along with a wonderful supporting cast of fully realized minor characters, whether fictional or historical. I don't know which is more painful to watch, Thomas More being viciously abusive to his wife and daughters over lunch, or Cromwell as a child watching a Lollard burned at the stake. Unless it's the progress of Henry's relationship with Anne.What gives me the most writer envy is that the book is written in third person present tense, which normally leaves me cold. This time I was so mesmerized after the first page that I barely noticed. A must read for anyone who loves good writing and/or this period in history.
    more
Write a review