I have only just discovered that Wolf Hall is the first part of a trilogy, but then once again I am late getting to read a novel, that really deserved my attention before now. It really is a case of so many books and so little time, I just have too many interests to keep on top of all the reading I would love to do. Anyway I finally got round to reading Wolf Hall on the recommendation of my daughter and the exciting fact that the publishers have sent me a copy of the second part Bring Up the Bodies. Keen to read it soon I obviously needed to get to read Wolf Hall first.
Historical novels are a genre I have always enjoyed but a few years ago I seemed to go off them and tended to steer myself away from the genre. Then thanks to this blog I found myself receiving invitations to review historical novels and reluctantly at first I decided to give the genre a chance again, because I pride myself in having eclectic tastes! It was the right decision as now I am enjoying a whole new generation of great historical novel writers, as you will have noticed if you are a regular reader of my reviews.
A period in history that has been written about many times before by the popular historical fiction novelists, but to my knowledge not from the viewpoint of Thomas Cromwell before now. Somehow Hilary Mantel turns a character I had always seen as a villian into a protagonist of this epic novel that I actually cared about, certainly as a family man! His household is seen as a happy place in complete contrast to the court of Henry Tudor. I did find the story confusing at first as it took me awhile to get the other characters with the name Thomas and the constant reference to he straight in my mind. Once I got into the rhythm of Hilary Mantels brilliantly told tale I found it engrossing. Her richly descriptive style brings every aspect of the period to life with intrigue and wit.
Set in the reign of Henry VIII England is on the brink of disaster, as if Henry dies without a male heir civil war is likely to break out. Henry wants to escape his twenty year marriage to Katherine of Aragon and replace her with Anne Boleyn. It is during this period that the court sees the rise of Thomas Cromwell from his lowly birth to become the right hand man to the King in replacement of Cardinal Wolsey as he and Thomas More are both doomed. As surely as their mistakes lead to their death, Cromwell finds that success brings him seemingly unlimited power. As the protagonist of this novel, Thomas Cromwell, the blacksmiths son that grew up to become powerful at court, a cruel and ruthless man according to history, is seen in a different light. Maybe he did have a more likeable side as when he was with family and friends he comes across as a kind man. Henry VIII needs a male heir and it becomes Cromwell's job to clear the path of all obstacles, of which there are many, that are preventing him from doing so. If you learnt the rhyme (divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived ),about Henry's wives as I did at school you will know the eventual outcome; as the novel ends there are already signs that the King is tiring of Anne Boleyn.
Although this is an historical novel the story revolves around human nature so readers that may normally prefer modern day fiction, will find plenty to relate to, just with characters you first heard of in history lessons at school. Personally I am really looking forward to reading the sequel now.
Hilary Mantel was born in Glossop, Derbyshire, England on 6 July 1952. She studied Law at the London School of Economics and Sheffield University. She was employed as a social worker, and lived in Botswana for five years, followed by four years in Saudi Arabia, before returning to Britain in the mid-1980s, where she still lives. In 1987 she was awarded the Shiva Naipaul Memorial Prize for an article about Jeddah, and she was film critic for The Spectator from 1987 to 1991. She is the author of nine previous novels, including A Change of Climate, A Place of Greater Safety, and Eight Months on Ghazzah Street. She has also written a memoir, Giving Up the Ghost. Winner of the Hawthornden Prize, she reviews for The New York Times, The New York Review of Books, and the London Review of Books. Wolf Hall (2009) won the 2009 Man Booker Prize for Fiction, the sequel to which Bring Up The Bodies was published in May 2012.
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