Monday, November 28, 2016

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

Hilary Mantel’s 2009 Man Booker Prize winner, Wolf Hall, is a gloriously well-researched and executed piece of historical fiction.  It came as no surprise to me, upon finishing the novel, that Mantel is the first woman, and the first Britain to win the prize twice (her second award earned in 2012 for the following book in the Thomas Cromwell Trilogy, Bring up the Bodies).  Wolf Hall is an account of Tudor intrigue, encapsulated in the years 1527-1535.  Many a tale has been told of the volatile and infamous life-and-times of King Henry VIII, but Mantel’s story is a novel one.  All the key figures of the day are present: Cardinal Wolsey, Anne and Mary Boleyn, Thomas More, Stephen Gardiner, Thomas Howard, yet one distinction sets this version apart, the indomitable Thomas Cromwell. Cromwell, the book’s narrarator-at-large, notable for his humble beginnings as the son of a ne’er-do-well blacksmith, brewer, and notorious bully, sets out to make his own way in the world at fifteen.  It is his shrewd gaze that colors the political and social climate of the day in a wholly original hue. At turns a hard man, who never forgets a slight, and a generous soul with always a place in his bustling and successful household for one in need. Mantel’s Cromwell is imminently likeable.  At times, I found myself rooting for a man long-dead these 476 years.  I would highly recommend this book to lovers of historical fiction. You don’t need to be an expert on 16th century English history to enjoy it, as it is peopled with a colorful cast and written with a fine grasp of wit and storytelling.

Jennifer Wilson

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