Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I think a good test for historical fiction is to imagine the book you're reading with the names changed, so you come at it for the story rather than its perspective on the lives of real people. If I put Wolf Hall to that test, it fails. The story is about the events during the time when Henry VIII was forcing a break between the church of England and the Catholic church of Rome. It is long and told mostly through dialogue and specific scenes that give the opinions of characters. Henry wanted to annul his marriage to Catherine of Aragon and marry Anne Boleyn for reasons that had to do with both his passion for Anne and his desire for an heir. The novel is written in first person from the point of view of Thomas Cromwell, which gives it an intensity that I felt was too much for so long a book. I also had difficulty with Mantel's use of pronouns. “He” was Thomas Cromwell by default but not always, so it often took me awhile to determine who was speaking. However, the writing is wonderful when reading short passages. Mantel obviously took a great deal of time with each word choice.
When glancing through some of the other reviews I noticed that the people who thought the most of Wolf Hall already had knowledge of that period of English history. I think that says a great deal for the accuracy and perspective on the events. I had a familiarity with the names of the people who surrounded Henry VIII, but knew very little about the specifics of the English reformation. I now know much more. My previous impression of Anne Boleyn was that she was an unfortunate woman caught up in a situation over which she had no control. I feel less sorry for her after reading this book. She treated people, including her sister, Mary, in a brutal and horrible way. I have a similar feeling about Thomas Moore who also suffered a fate that seems appropriate for such a ruthless man. Since the book was written from Thomas Cromwell's perspective, I'm left feeling that he was a strong family man who loved his children and, especially, his wife, Elizabeth Wyckes.
I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in sixteenth century English history.
Steve Lindahl - Author of Motherless Soul
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