Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
Synopsis from publisher:
In the ruthless arena of King Henry VIII's court, only one man dares to gamble his life to win the king's favor and ascend to the heights of political power
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. The quest for the king's freedom destroys his adviser, the brilliant Cardinal Wolsey, and leaves a power vacuum.
Into this impasse steps Thomas Cromwell. Cromwell is a wholly original man, a charmer and a bully, both idealist and opportunist, astute in reading people and a demon of energy: he is also a consummate politician, hardened by his personal losses, 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?
How does one make a 500+ page novel about the Tudor court seem almost passionless? I mean, we all know the stories of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, Katharine of Aragon and Thomas Cromwell - these people were brash and proud and lusty and courageous and strong. Why then, after reading the Booker Prize winning Wolf Hall, do I feel more like I've read an essay about these characters than a fully engrossing novel?
I almost think Mantel's novel was SO well-researched that she lost track of the wonderfully fascinating people who lived this story. She clearly knows her stuff, and I don't think you could fault the historical accuracy of the novel. But it didn't sweep me away into the lives of Henry and Thomas, which is really what I wanted when I picked it up.
Don't get me wrong - I read it all the way through to the end, and in places it was compelling. But there was just SO much of the political, when I was hungering for more of the personal. Also, Mantel made the decision to refer to Cromwell as "he" for much of the novel. This was at times confusing when it seemed more logical that someone else would be the "he" that was speaking - I found myself reading and re-reading fairly frequently just to get a handle on who exactly was talking. It was strange, and threw me out of the narrative on a number of occasions.
I'm not terribly familiar with Booker Prize-winning novels, so I can't say if this is representative of the genre, but I will say that, for me, it was a disappointment. I don't think it will encourage me to pick up another novel by this author, which is too bad, because I really wanted to love her work.Finished: 11/22/09
Source: Forest Avenue Library
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