given to me by my mom and dad for my birthday, but bought on may 22nd 2010
I first learnt about the Tudors and Henry VIII when I was little. Probably around 8 or 10 years old, I think. My parents got me this at a book fair in Algarve, and I’ve read it about 500 times now. Actually, I’ve done that with most books from that collection. Anyway, I thought Henry VIII was a pretty crappy king, but had some serious flirting skills for being able to seduce and marry six ladies while being really, really fat (he had to be hoisted into his bed in later stages of his life) and bald.
I was pretty much in love with Tudors by then. My first venture into Tudor historical fiction came with Phillipa Gregory’s “The Other Boleyn Girl” which, while good, is mostly about sex sex sex sex political intrigue sex sex sex gossip about sex dresses jewelry and more sex.
Now, Wolf Hall is nothing like that. Actually, Wolf Hall in unlike anything I’ve ever read. And it’s good, very good. It’s about Thomas Cromwell, a blacksmith’s son who made his way up until he became one of Henry VIII’s most prominent courtiers. He’s usually portrayed very negatively, as conniving and mean, but Mantel painted a different picture of him, a nicer one, which was really enjoyable.
This 600-page book doesn’t necessarily have a continuous plot, it’s more like a stream of events that tie up together somehow. It’s the usual Henry wants to ditch Katherine to marry Anne, oh no! dilemma, but it features so much more intrigue and heresy and religious and political affairs. One would think this book, being massive, is boring and difficult to read. It’s not! I read it in 5 or 6 days, I simply couldn’t put it down. Mantel’s writing made me feel like I wasn’t even reading, just like I was there, living it. Reading just became a simple function, like breathing, it was completely unconscious. I’d never experienced it before.
Mantel’s characters are so well explored. She wasn’t straight-forward with anything, but with some quips and judgments from other characters and their general actions, every single person in this book was alive to me. The writing also features that really dry British wit that I just adore. It was funny without even trying, guh.
Just, go out and read this book. You don’t even have to know the first thing about Tudor History, everything is very neatly explained. Heck, you don’t even have to like History, I guarantee you’ll like this book. However, this isn’t light reading, and not just because of its size. The Other Boleyn Girl had approximately the same number of pages, and I could read it in buses without becoming distracted losing track of the plot. Wolf Hall has a cast of characters and two genealogical trees at the beginning, most of the characters are either named Henry, Thomas, Mary or Anne, which can get quite confusing at times, and in the first parts time switches back and forth. BUT. It’s still worth it, really, it is. This book will stick with you, you will wish it had another 600 pages, and if you’re up for a challenging read, go for it!
As you can imagine, I also have some praise for Mantel’s research. She spent 5 years researching and writing this book, and she rightfully deserved last year’s Booker Prize.
Read from July 9th to July 15th 2010.