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#230 ~ Wolf Hall

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

Hilary Mantel’s latest novel first entered my radar through an issue of BookPage, a monthly magazine made available for free from my local library.  From the momemt I saw the cover (H8 may not be displayed prominently on the cover, but you can’t slip him by me) and read the review, this book shot up to the tippity top of my “I want, I want” list.  When it finally arrived from Powell’s, it felt as precious in my hands as gold.  I love it when a book gives me that feeling.

After finishing the novel in December, I haven’t been able to wrap my head around writing a proper review.  Instead, I’m just going to give you my overall thoughts about this novel:

  • After starting this book, the darndest thing happened – I found myself liking Thomas Cromwell. Despite all that I have read about Henry VIII‘s reign and his specific place in that history, I was actually fond of him.  I could not believe it.  Mantel did not gloss over who he was, where he came from, or what he did.  What she did so brilliantly was give him a life, one that was worth protecting.
  • I did not read this novel straight through.  I don’t think I could have.  It took me a little under a month to complete it.  I loved Mantel’s writing, but it requires a great deal of concentration.  When my attention drifted even a little, I found I had to reread paragraphs to figure out if the “he” in question was Cromwell or another man.  When I picked the novel back up, I never had any difficulty remembering where I was and moving forward.
  • It was nice to read about this time in Henry VIII’s history from a male perspective.  When much of what I’ve read to date is from the female perspective, the “men of the time” have been much more one-sided than they were in Wolf Hall.  There is a great deal in this novel about Cromwell’s relationship with Thomas Moore and I found it interesting to view Moore from Cromwell’s point of view.  I often found myself comparing his Moore to the Moore of Vanora Bennett’s Portrait on an Unknown Woman.
  • It would not suggest choosing this novel as one’s first introduction to Tudor history.  Despite a rather exhaustive cast of characters at the beginning of the novel, I attribute much of my enjoyment of this novel to the fact that I have a decent overall knowledge of the life of Henry VIII and the politics of his court.  Without that, I could see myself getting bogged down.
  • In equal parts I enjoyed this novel and truly respect it for its craftsmanship.  However, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it to everyone.  This is a novel for those who love the Tudor time period, are interested in the Medieval English law, or are interested in the growth of Protestantism in England.  I think those without that background or types of interest would struggle with it.  This isn’t a book I would pick up and read just because it’s a Man Booker Prize winner.
  • I purchased this book in hardcover.  It is, however, available on the Kindle.  I’m not sure how I would have liked the reading on the Kindle, though.  I can’t really put the reasons why into words.  It just wasn’t “that” kind of a book.

Have you read Wolf Hall?  What did you think?

Other Voices:

Boston Bibliophile
Asylum
Fantasy Book Critic
Farm Lane Books
Medieval Bookworm

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21 Comments

  • At 2010.01.28 08:44, A Bookshelf Monstrosity said:

    I like this format of review. It’s a nice change from the paragraph format from time to time, you know? I’d like to tackle Wolf Hall someday- it sounds like it’s a book to take one’s time with and truly savor. Books that spin a previously ‘bad’ character into a different light always intrigue me. Thanks for the great review.

    • At 2010.01.28 09:20, Stephanie said:

      I am glad to see that you found it easier to read Wolf Hall in smaller chunks. I hadn’t considered that possibility, but now that you have mentioned it, it makes sense. I bought Wolf Hall over Christmas break and have yet to crack it open, but I am sure when I do, it will be a great read.

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      • At 2010.01.28 09:33, Michelle said:

        I agree with you on the fact that this book is one to be read slowly — I’ve still got 200 pages and it feels as if I’ve been reading it for ages!

        I find that I, too, really like Cromwell, and dislike Thomas More, which is contrary to pretty much everything I’ve ever been taught about history. That’s one of the things I like about this book.

        I was just thinking about how I’m going to review this book, even with 200 pages left, and I think it’ll be one of those books that I really like certain elements of (writing, characters, etc.) but that I may not read again.

        Glad I’m not the only one who’s taken a long time to read this. I was feeling abnormal!

        • At 2010.01.28 09:49, Sandy said:

          I know next to nothing about Tudor history. This era just has not reached out and grabbed me yet. I’m sure if I dove in, I would become consumed, but that is a bit like a commitment I think. Therefore, I shan’t be reading this one any time soon. I don’t think I would appreciate it properly.

          • At 2010.01.28 12:18, Fyrefly said:

            I’ve heard so many good things about this book, which would normally make me want to read it, but I feel like I’ve been kind of burnt out on the Tudors in the past few years. Maybe I’ll give it another few and see if I come back around?

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            • At 2010.01.28 13:04, Kathy R (Bermudaonion) said:

              I haven’t read this book and don’t have it on my wish list, for just the reason you noted – I’m not familiar enough with the Tudors to tackle something like this.

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              • At 2010.01.28 13:07, Ti said:

                My book group picked Wolf Hall for our list this year. I’m not sure we’ll be able to get through it as a group. We may lose folks along the way and who knows, one of them might be me! I so want to read it though.

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                • At 2010.01.28 13:10, Michele @ Reader's Respite said:

                  I read it with some trepidation and ended up absolutely loving it….one of my favorites from 2009. But I think you’re correct re: who one should recommend it to because I believe one of the reasons I enjoyed the book so much was due to my background knowledge of this time period and the characters….definitely not a beginner’s book to Tudor fiction, as you say.

                  I’m reading another novel right now very similar to Wolf Hall (if not better, actually) that covers Mary I’s reign and the ascension of Elizabeth to the throne….also told from a man’s POV (famous scholar John Dee) and I’m loving it just as much as Wolf Hall.

                  • At 2010.01.28 13:28, Aarti said:

                    I LOVED this book. I love everything I’ve ever read by Mantel. I also really found it fascinating how I bonded to Cromwell through reading it- but I wasn’t surprised TOO much. After all, in her A Place of Greater Safety, I felt an affinity for Robespierre…

                    • At 2010.01.28 13:51, Shweta said:

                      When I first saw this book ,I thought why should I read another recounting of Tudor history I already know. But of late I have been drawn to this book. I think I will pick it up soon and read it in small parts . Chunksters intimidate me 🙂 sometimes ..Loved the way u reviewed this book

                      • At 2010.01.28 17:04, Kathleen said:

                        I haven’t read this one yet but it is on my list. I appreciate your honest review and candor about who may or may not enjoy this book. I do have a decent grasp on this time period but probably not the hours it would take to read this as carefully as it needs to be read. I’m thinking this one will wait for a time in the future when I am a bit more focused and not so scattered!

                        • At 2010.01.28 17:11, Amy said:

                          Great review/thoughts Jennifer! I started it and am about halfway through, but had to put it down too, because just like you if I can’t concentrate, then there is no point reading it. It’s really good though and I never thought I could like Cromwell. I guess never say never right?!

                          • At 2010.01.28 21:48, veens said:

                            Great review format! I think I like reading points 🙂
                            I will jeep all this in mind and get Wolf Hall! I sure want to read it someday! And I am interested in Tudor History!

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                            • At 2010.01.29 00:30, Lisa said:

                              I’ve been thinking that anything really heavy (literally and figuratively) is probably best read from the actual book. But I can’t put why into words either!

                              • At 2010.01.29 01:53, Alyce said:

                                I haven’t read this book, but I have heard from others that it is hard to get into. I think I would like it though because I do like reading about Henry VIII and his court (and wives).

                                • At 2010.01.29 13:47, Jen - Devourer of Books said:

                                  This is a great review. I have this on my shelf and I need to get to it, but I think that I’ll wait until I get through a couple of other thick books, then read a certain amount per day, with something else on the side.

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                                  • At 2010.01.29 20:03, Kailana said:

                                    I really want to read this. I own it, but I haven’t had a chance to read it yet.

                                    • At 2010.01.30 22:04, softdrink said:

                                      At the rate I’m going, it’s going to take me months to finish this one!

                                      • At 2010.04.04 14:48, Wolf Hall – Book Review – caribousmom said:

                                        […] The Literate Housewife […]

                                        • […] very interesting to read a book where Henry is rearing his head in the book indirectly.  Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel (although it requires much more concentration and a greater reading […]

                                          • At 2012.06.29 06:01, #437 ~ Bring Up the Bodies said:

                                            […] Like Anne of Cleves and Katherine Parr, my reading life moved on without him. That was until Wolf Hall was published. When I read it, I loved Hilary Mantel’s novel for all of its complexity in […]

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