March 14, 2014
Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel (Review)
Author: Hilary Mantel
First published: 2009
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Last year when I was in Vancouver on a conference I stumbled upon a wonderful bookstore selling used books. I didn't have much money on me, but I still spent an hour there and bought three rather thick books. Then I walked about 15 km with this heavy parcel in my hand because my hotel was already far behind and I had big touristic plans for the day. I was so dead at the end of the day that I cursed my book-buying addiction. But I repented thinking so as soon as I looked at my precioussssses again (and took a bath!).
These three books were Titus Groan, Wolf Hall and Watership Down (which I haven't read yet, but will soon!). Now I can say that at least two of them were totally worth the effort :)
Sometimes I think that half of all the historical novels out there are about Henry VIII. But I doubt any of them are anything like Wolf Hall. The novel is written from the point of view of Thomas Cromwell, one of the most powerful courtiers of Henry VIII's time. He is behind Henry's first divorce, the new legislation concerning ecclesiastical matters and foreign politics of the time, so his is a VERY informed point of view! He is also an interesting person himself - born a son of a smith, having served abroad for the most of his youth, learned not only in economy but also in theological matters, with wide correspondence abroad and an infinite influence at court, but still despised by every titled man of the realm for his descent... An outstanding person indeed!
The most striking feature of Wolf Hall is its writing. It is sometimes hard to get into it after a long pause, but as soon as you do, it doesn't let you go. And I mean, literally! I physically couldn't stop reading, I didn't notice how many pages ago I should have put it down to go do something useful (like getting food! Once I missed the shop's closing time and had to order a pizza.) Mantel doesn't give you the story in chunks, set in different places and peopled with different characters, divided by cliffhangers. Instead, she somehow makes you turn the pages even though the narrative is very calm and meditative, and nothing sudden happens.
The only problem I had with the writing was that Cromwell was always referenced as "he". Although the narrative is totally first person. Does it have some clever name? Help me out here, English majors! Anyway, I found it really confusing, because sometimes it was difficult to understand who is speaking or doing something. Imagine a passage like this: "Sir BlaBla remarks: "blablabla". He goes to the window". You would think that the "he" here refers to Sir BlaBla, but it doesn't! It's actually Cromwell who is doing it. So confusing.
In my book:
A beautifully written and haunting novel! Recommended even to those who are sick and tired of Henry VIII and his public family life.