Thursday, December 17, 2009

book review - Wolf Hall - Hilary Mantel



Getting round to writing this review has taken so long that it has almost become a mental block. Quite why I'm not sure. Possibly one reason is the length of time it took to read and the size of the book meant that it took time to filter a reaction.

But to be honest it was probably more to do with it being a consequence of the impact Wolf Hall had on my reading that has delayed this review. It simply held me back from reading other things. When a book wins a major award like the Booker the temptation perhaps is to try and read even more deeply to look for the grains of genius that made it better than the others on the shortlist.

There were others on the list I enjoyed more, with The Little Stranger and The Glass Room being two that also provoked and entertained.

But Wolf Hall is a mammoth work of historical fiction that manages to take you into the world of Henry VIII from a fresh angle. We all know about the wives and the way the King went from young stud to gout ridden obesity but this book centres on when he was at the early stages of trying to part with his first wife.

The character of Thomas Cromwell is a mixture of legal expert, diplomat, world traveller and thug all rolled into one. He manages to win the favour of the King when it seems he might well end up doing the opposite because of his loyal connection with the out of favour cardinals.

As he keeps on the right side of Henry his own fortunes grows and those in his extended family prosper under his protection. But it could always be taken away with a click of the King's fingers and that pressure eventually starts to tell on Cromwell, other courtiers and England itself.

The reasons why you remember Wolf Hall is perhaps because of the insight into the a period of henry's reign from a different angle but in some respects the story struggles to maintain your interest. As Cromwell edges closer to a death caused by old age and the wear and tear of Henry's reign you start to feel a great sense of relief with the ending.

Historical fiction is not a genre that I head for in bookshops and given the experience with this weighty tome it is not a view I will be changing in the near future.

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