Hilary Mantel’s WOLF HALL

Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn would have to amongst the most written about subjects in non fiction and fiction. Their story continues to fascinate millions of people. I personally have not read a lot on the subject but from being a book buyer for over 10 years I have certainly seen many books about them cross my path. I know the gist of the story (“Divorced, beheaded, died; divorced, beheaded, survived.”) but after watching THE TUDORS television series (which Steve our resident Tudor expert describes as woefully inaccurate) I got a better idea of the characters that surround Henry and Anne Boleyn, (although I still get Suffolk and Norfolk confused). The political manoeuvrings of everyone who has a vague stake in the affairs of England is fascinating and I can definitely see why there are so many books on The Tudors and such a passionate interest in the subject.

WOLF HALL has sat in my ‘to read’ pile for at least two years, if not longer. I finally got around to it because the sequel, BRING UP THE BODIES, is being released in May this year. After reading The Game of Throne series last year I instantly related to WOLF HALL as there are many parallels. Both stories deal with power and those who lust after it. The novel is essentially the rise of Thomas Cromwell and what power does to a man who has risen from a blacksmith’s son to King’s courtier. An unheard of rise in a land of lordships and hereditary rights with distinct class delineation.

I haven’t read anything about Thomas Cromwell but what I have picked up along the way he has never been painted in a good light. He and Thomas More are always seen as power hungry zealots and More is painted no differently in WOLF HALL. In fact every time More features in the book I am reminded of a cold-blooded reptilian. However I very much warm to Mantel’s Cromwell. Mantel has rendered him in a very empathetic way and captures his voice and a dry, almost but not quite callous sense of humour. He resents nearly everyone around him, he is persuasive, a master manipulator and his view of the world is cynical, blunt and realistic. But power always corrupts no matter who you are or where you come from. In a time when the Church wielded power and money over Kings, Queens and countries his faith (and lack of faith) was in people and the law (which ultimately was his downfall).

What I loved most about WOLF HALL is that Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn are almost background characters. Their story is so familiar but Mantel ensures she doesn’t tread on any sodden ground. Henry especially is rarely featured and Anne Boleyn flits in and out of the book. Cromwell is the central figure and his views permeate Mantel’s recreation of Tudor England. The story is one of political intrigue, moral corruption and the machinations of power and it is enthralling, entertaining, enlightening and deserving of all the accolades heaped upon it.

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