Saturday, November 28, 2009

Review - Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
published 2009
532 pages

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?

My thoughts:

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
Rating: 6/10

This book counts toward:


J.S. Peyton said...

So sorry to hear you didn't like this. I recently added this to my TBR list and I've been pretty excited about reading it. It's usually not my type of reading (Tudors don't normally interest me all that much), but I've heard so many great things about it that I figured I should check it out. Maybe because I don't have very much of an opinion on the Tudors either way, I won't find it as passionless as you did. Here's hoping! :)

bermudaonion said...

Thanks for your review! I haven't gotten into the Tudors yet, so I've been on the fence about this book. I think I'll skip it.

Amy said...

Well you completely convinced me away. I already pretty much sure I wasn't going to read this, but passionless???? the only reason I care about the Tudors is FOR the passion! :)

Great review!

Aarti said...

Ohmigosh, I'm really surprised you didn't like this one! I thought you'd enjoy it. I LOVED it. I can see what you mean on many of your points, but I don't know... I just love Mantel. I suppose if you didn't like this one, you wouldn't like her fabulous Place of Greater Safety, but if you ever feel like giving her massive novels another go, I LOVE THAT BOOK!

Zibilee said...

I'm so sorry to hear that you didn't love this book. I bought a copy a few weeks ago and am hoping that I love it, but after reading your review I am a little worried now!