Wednesday 11 November 2009

Review: Wolf Hall - Hilary Mantel

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

Genre: Historical fiction
Pages: 560
Published:  2009

In the ruthless arena of King Henry VIII's court, only one man dares to gamble his life to win the king's favor and ascend to the heights of political power

England in the 1520s is a heartbeat from disaster. If the king dies without a male heir, the country could be destroyed by civil war. Henry VIII wants to annul his marriage of twenty years, and marry Anne Boleyn. The pope and most of Europe opposes him. The quest for the king's freedom destroys his adviser, the brilliant Cardinal Wolsey, and leaves a power vacuum.

Into this impasse steps Thomas Cromwell. Cromwell is a wholly original man, a charmer and a bully, both idealist and opportunist, astute in reading people and a demon of energy: he is also a consummate politician, hardened by his personal losses, implacable in his ambition. But Henry is volatile: one day tender, one day murderous. Cromwell helps him break the opposition, but what will be the price of his triumph?

I knew this book had won the Man Book prize this year and I did have high hopes. I was glad to see that they came through. There is nothing I love more than excellent writing, beautiful writing, an author that proud can call herself an author. Mantel manages this. She has a certain sort of style that I do not know how to describe. It makes the words move slowly, it's a slow pace to the book like it holds on to you so you will not miss a single word. I should know because I have been known to jump pages and still read them. Here is steadied myself and read slowly. She has a nice style.

This could have been a boring book, but Mantel saves it with great writing and my favorite part, gossip. She tells the story of Thomas Cromwell, a man born in obscurity who worked his way up and at last became a trusted advisor to Henry VIII. This book sets place at the time of Anne Boleyn. After having met Thomas as a young boy running away we meet him again when he works for the bishop of York. He is known for making money. And at this time the streets are buzzing with the kings new mistress. It will be Cromwell that finally gets the kings divorce so that he can marry Anne.

The title Wolf Hall comes from the ancestral seat of the Seymour. Sure they do not play a big part of this book since it's all about the Boleyns. But we all know as we read that we should look in the shadows for Jane Seymour and she does show up. A gray little thing, and as the book will close with Wolf Hall. A new beginning, or rather a new try.

She writes about every day life, and the struggle for the king to marry Anne Boleyn. A woman who does not come across favourable in this book, now that is rather her poor sister who longs to be free in the end. It's a truthful and well researched book about what really went on. No over excessing glamour, sex or people made out to be heroes. No, real life as it was then. Power struggles, and death.

Gossip was a big part of the book and at that time I am sure they would have gossiped a lot about the situation going on. But it's told as it is, gossip, no truth, because that we can not know. But I still enjoyed it a lot. It was very interesting and it gave a good feel of that era. There was also some talk about those kings that came before, and yes a bit more gossip. They were really a fascinating bunch of people and I can't remember I learned this much about English history or the Royal family.

It is a book that is worthy of it's award. A great style and a way of writing that makes you see ordinary things in a new life. And a truthful look at life back then, and on one of the most famous and written about times in English history.

One confusing thing though was that sometimes it was hard to know who was speaking. It didn't always say, I assumed Cromwell up to certain points.

And yes it had me googling like crazy at the ending to know more about everything. Nothing like brushing up your history about the Tudors. I did not know he was related to Boleyn, I knew she was related to a wife but not a another. It was a family feast.

Blodeuedd's Cover Corner: To be truthful, these kind of award winning books never do have pretty covers. But here it is not the book cover that is important. It's the kind of book you want to pick up cos it promises great things.

Where I got it: A free review copy from the publisher

4 because I love great writing.


  1. Wonderful review - this book sounds like it would keep my interest.

    I hate it too when you can't tell who's speaking. It drives me nuts!

  2. Great review! I'm next on the library hold list and am really looking forward to this - just a little afraid I won't finish in time since there are no renewals.

  3. Indeed the cover is not great, but the story does sounds very good. I just love reading everything about the Tudors and this one is just so informative. Thank you for your great review.


  4. Good review. I don't read much historical fiction, but you've definitely tempted me.

  5. Great review! You've made me want to read this one. It sounds really good.

    Diary of an Eccentric

  6. I've had some interesting history with the Man Booker Prize (I can't remember if you already posted on my rant about it a little while back), but I've been curious about this one. Your great review has me even more curious. History and gossip and great writing. . .maybe it will end up being another one that I love. I guess we'll see.
    (oh, and I think award winning books should still try to have great covers)

  7. It is a rare thing to find good writing that keeps the attention of the reader even while moving slowly. I'm glad to see that you liked this one.

  8. Not sure if this is my kind of genre but it does sound interesting! Thanks for the great review :)

  9. Patti,
    It had me wondering a couple of times, and it sure was confusing but hey I lived through it. Just wanted more gossip ;)

    Oh yay, I hope you enjoy it, but hm, it does take a time but perhaps you will finish it during that time

    The cover is sure blah, but the story was good and it made me wanna read more about that era

  10. Carol,
    I read now and again but it does need to be good to tempt me. I am more into romance in that era.

    I really liked it, I just wish I could capture in writing how she wrote. it was, no, it has to be read.

  11. Brizmus,
    Lol ranting is great and it is the way it goes. Some award books, awesome, some not for me. This one I liked. For me it was the writing and oh the gossip, that has to be read.

    So true, the books can be awesome and winning tons of prizes but covers do sell and this one, yeah no.

    It had this slow pace that would have driven me crazy in other books. I have never read so slowly in my life. Still it worked, I had to take it slow.

    You're welcome. That is my award winning book for the year, I try to read at least one lol

  12. I love anything Tudor style :) and have been wondering what this was like. Your review is very encouraging!

    You are right about the cover - to me both versions look a bit 'lazy', but I guess this is the fashion for historical fiction in some ways.


  13. This book is on my tbr list, but I a a bit worried whether it was a book that I would get bored with, but after reading you review, I reckon I am going to enjoy it, thanks for the great review!

  14. I agree the cover is lame. I think the Canadian one is somewhat better but still lame, I think.

    I'm so glad you liked this book :-)

  15. This one sounds like it has it all!!! Definitely one that will be on my list of books to look for!

  16. I have heard nothing but good things about this book. Have been able to get it ordered for our library. I love historical novels. In the format of a well written book, we tend to learn more and retain more than we do with history texts and classes. Facts in the context of a good story won't be readily forgotten. In addition, we get a feel for the time in history, not just the dates and names.
    I am really looking forward to reading this book.

  17. Sassy Brit,
    Historical fiction do have this look, i wonder why. Because for a coverlover like me it's not encouraging.

    The Tudors were such a fascinating bunch wasn't they, I would not have liked to live there but it's fun to read about them.

    Some might get bored since it moves the way it does, but for me the language and haha yes gossip made it very interesting. You could give it a go.

    The Canadian? Hm, I have seen the UK, read with something on it, yeah boring.
    Me too

  18. Staci,
    Look for it, and I hope you will enjoy it. Pst, gossip, haha, perhaps it is just me that found it so amusing.

    People do seem to like it, well most anyway. So true, a good historical book can do all that, and it sure did for me. It wasn't just names and dates, it was reality and a land in change.
    I hope you will enjoy it

  19. Again honey... your genre never ceases to amaze me! Interesting reading material. You are right about the cover... not a usual cover to pick up... but what lies beneath the cover... Hope you have a great day Blodeuedd!

  20. I've seen many positive reviews of this one, it sounds like one I'd enjoy. Maybe I'll be able to borrow it from Alaine, I'm sure she was sent a review copy :-)

  21. Cecile,
    Aye me and my genres, now I really need to branch out cos most of my new books seems to be PF, Historical romance and such (though I do love it!)
    Here it really goes that you should not judge a cover.

    People do seem to enjoy it, I hope you too, if you borrow it from Alaine :)

  22. It looks like I am the only one who hasn't read this book. Am I really missing something? I would one day!

  23. I also have a review copy of this one and your review makes me want to hurry up and read it.

  24. Alaine,
    I hope you will like it, I liked the language, just do not know how to describe it

  25. Hi Blodeuedd!

    Having a breather, making my way around the blogosphere.

    I've read a lot about this book, and it definitely has peaked my interest. I'll have to add it to my ever increasing books to purchase. Ack!! I may never see the end!

    Thanks for the great review!

    Dottie :)

  26. Hi Dottie,
    Lol, oh the eternal TBR pile, it just keep on growing and growing, and then it grows a bit more ;)

  27. Great review. I'd love to read this one someday. It sounds so good.

  28. Dar,
    It was, she has a special way of writing

  29. Interesting book Blodeuedd...

    I am not a fan of that time period and I tend to go for synopsis more than wanting to pick up books about the Tudors...

    Very pleased the authors style made an impression on you - Sometimes that's the deal breaker in wether you like a book or you love a book...


  30. EH,
    They are not a happy bunch, I could sure get angry at them. But I guess I liked it cos it was not about them.

    So true, an authors style can be so crucial

  31. Great review B!
    Gossip is what got you killed back then so probably a wise move on Mantell's part. Always felt a little bad for Cromwell. Did so much for the royalty and paid for it with his life in the end, reagardless of his mistakes.