Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel

Wolf HallThis book. It is… a book. It is a long book, but not long like Ken Follett‘s books are long, in the thousand-page sense — long like I thought it was going to take me ten or so hours to read and it took me probably twice that. Long.

When my dear Amy chose this for our book club, I thought this might be a long book because it would be boring, because it’s historical fiction and I like to whine about historical fiction more than I like reading it. But it wasn’t boring. The story moved along at a reasonable pace, I think, and I was always intrigued to see what would happen next, what interesting things might befall the characters. What made the book so slow is that I do not know my history.

See, this book is about this guy called Thomas Cromwell, who is a person who is apparently well-known for… stuff? For being tight with Henry VIII, I guess, from what I can tell from this book. (It pains me to be this ignorant, which is probably why I avoid reading historical fiction, but of course that just leads to me being more ignorant!) The book follows Cromwell’s life from the end of his abused childhood to his near fall from grace to his rise to power and aforementioned tightness. That sounds weird. Anyway, it’s about his life and his interactions with his contemporaries and I often found myself stopping to ask Wikipedia who someone was or when something happened, though more often I found myself just skipping that process entirely and hoping the book would get around to telling me what was going on so that I could just finish reading already!

Moral of this story: Don’t start Wolf Hall 48 hours before your book club meeting.

My own knowledge inadequacies aside, I did think this book was quite interesting. It had a bit of that Ken Follett subterfuge and intrigue feel to it, with Cromwell constantly looking for his own advantage, and I liked the bits with all the royal title shenanigans — promotions and demotions — that made me quite happy to be a commoner. I would perhaps have liked all the characters to have had a little more, say, character, but then it would have been so much longer and so I’ll let that slide.

And I guess the book isn’t really about the non-Cromwell characters anyway; the history-knowers in my book club indicated that this book is meant to re-frame Cromwell’s story from however it’s usually framed to a more pro-Cromwell view. (I seriously need to go read up on this stuff.) So probably if you know a bunch of stuff about Tudor England already, this book would seem more complete? I have no idea. I’m going to go back to my completely made-up stories now…

Recommendation: For people who know more about history things than I do and people with some time to spend reading.

Rating: 6/10

6 thoughts on “Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel

    • Alison says:

      It really does require commitment; I wish I had taken that into account when I started reading! And there were so many characters, and as Mantel points out they are all named Thomas! I’m glad we’ve gotten slightly more creative with naming in the last 400 years or so. 🙂

  1. Rachel says:

    I listened to this as an audiobook and felt completely overwhelmed. But in the end, I really enjoyed it and I learned a lot about the era. I DID already know that it was meant to give a unique perspective on Cromwell’s character, though. I also enjoyed Bring Up the Bodies…in fact, I enjoyed it more than Wolf Hall, because I could actually follow what was happening because I knew who all the characters were by the time I got there. 🙂

    • Alison says:

      Ah, yes, it would have been helpful to know who everyone was! My book club almost read Bring up the Bodies instead of Wolf Hall — I wonder if it would have been doubly confusing, then!

  2. Lois says:

    It was on our list for our book club too, and I’m sorry to say I couldn’t even finish it. I know I am prejudiced, I just don’t like books written in the present tense, and I know I have violent scenes in the books I write but I was just turned off by the opening, and I know it is immensely popular, well-thought of and prize winning…. but I just didn’t like it! Interesting review…. thank you!

    • Alison says:

      I’ve never understood the problem with present tense… I’m all over it! 🙂 It was definitely a tough book to finish, though.

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