Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
Henry Holt & Co., New York, 2009
Borrowed from my local library.
Winner of the 2009 Man Booker Prize.
A 2009 NYT Most Notable Book.
A CSM Best Book of 2009.
This book will be on my top 10 list for 2010. It may even be my favorite book of the year. Wait, you ask, it is only the middle of January, how can you say that? I say that because Mantel has created a world so full and rich that I didn’t want to leave it. She has given me a place as vivid as the streets of my own city, as lively as my favorite café. She has introduced me to characters that I want to talk to, that I wish to comfort and, sometimes, to scream at.
Of course, that is impossible, we are centuries and worlds apart. After all, this is fiction. Immersed in the history of early 16th century Britain, Mantel tells the story of one man, Thomas Cromwell. With roots in the lower class, Cromwell, the son of a brewer and blacksmith, rises to become a confidant to Cardinal Wolsey, the Lord Chancellor to King Henry VIII. Eventually Cromwell becomes the King’s chief minister and the enemy of Thomas More, staunch supporter of the Pope. Henry, afraid of dying without a legitimate heir, wishes to annul his first marriage and marry another. There are multiple threads of politics, sex and double-dealing and, of course, the King’s battle with the Catholic Church. But this book is so much more than another fictionalized account of that time in history.
Wolf Hall is dense, dark and rich in a way that made me slow down my reading and savor every page. Mantel places Cromwell in the third person and some readers find this difficult. It did not really bother me. I rather enjoy the rhythm of shifting from Cromwell’s thoughts to observing him from some close vantage point. The only part I found awkward was trying to keep track of the different Royal lineages, and Mantel, or her editors, have graciously placed a list of characters and the Tudor and Yorkist family trees at the front of the book.
I really love Mantel’s style, her intelligence, and her trust in my abilities as a reader. I will read this book again