Novel Suggestions Rotating Header Image

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

Hilary Mantel’s widely acclaimed Wolf Hall collected the prestigious Man Booker Prize in 2009, and was shortlisted for a number of other awards. It has taken me quite a while to get around to finding out what all the fuss was about, but it proved to be well worth the wait in the end, it really is a superb piece of work. It has received some degree of criticism for annoying elements in its writing style; so is it a flawed masterpiece or simply flawed?

Read on for a full review….

-- Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel a Review by Des Greene --

Wolf Hall follows the rise of Thomas Cromwell in the Tudor England of Henry VIII. Born of low stock to a cruel father, Thomas’ cleverness, usefulness and sheer hard work see him emerge first as right hand man to Cardinal Wolsey, and latterly as courtier and adviser to King Henry himself. All this in a dangerous and turbulent world of political and religious upheaval.

Thomas’ loyalty to his master the Cardinal, is first noted by Henry during the political manoeuvrings to get his marriage to Catherine annulled. When the Cardinal’s efforts with the Vatican have been seen to fail and he is exiled North, Thomas continues his rise to ever greater prominence as he is called to Henry’s court and his worth is rewarded with a succession of appointments to key positions of power. Of course, his rise to power from such humble beginnings gathers him a number of enemies who resent this move away from traditional privileged routes to positions of high office, not to mention enemies within Catherine’s family, for his efforts to remove her from the throne to be replaced by Anne Boleyn.

If you were as reluctant a student of history as I was in my formative years, the brief synopsis above may have already been enough to put you off Wolf Hall, but even though it is a long book at 650 pages, I never found it to be in the least dry or boring. On the contrary, the dialogue and the plot are lively and fast moving.

Naturally, a purely historical text has to deal with what it believes to be the facts as they happened, whereas a novel such as this can deal with matters on a more personal level, and put words into the mouths of those long dead. For me this is where Wolf Hall works best, it brings to life these historical characters in a way that a text book rarely can; and whilst it is complex (I was grateful for the cast of characters at the front of the book) I think Hilary Mantel has succeeded in providing both education and entertainment for those of us previously turned off history by the dull way in which it can sometimes be presented.

Along with most other readers and reviewers of this novel, I do have to draw attention to what I believe to be its one downside, the annoying – “he said, he said, he said” – writing style, in which you are often left wondering which of several hes actually said what. To some extent you get used to it after a couple of chapters, but it certainly interferes with the flow at times, and at others left me entirely nonplussed.

For lovers of history and historical fiction, Wolf Hall I’m sure will provide compelling reading; for those who don’t fit into that category, you may find yourself as pleasantly surprised as I was at just how engaging and exciting this novel is.

Already read Wolf Hall? What did you think of it? Please post a comment below, Novel Suggestions is always keen to hear your opinions.

Novel Suggestions only provides fiction book reviews of books that we personally recommend. We don’t spend our valuable time writing reviews of books which we feel would be a waste of your valuable time!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *