Though we’re a little late to the party in our review of Hilary Mantel‘s Wolf Hall, we can’t help but add our take on the scintillating novel that has already won The Booker Prize, The Walter Scott Prize for Literature and The National Book Critics Circle Award. There’s probably a lot of avid readers that have been put off starting the novel because of its size and weighty subject matter and while it is a lot of reading to get through, you’ll find that it’s well worth the effort almost instantly upon turning the first page.
The story is that of the rise of Thomas Cromwell from his brutal upbringing as the son of a heavy-handed blacksmith to his more influential positions under Cardinal Wolsey and King Henry VIII. It’s a story that goes hand-in-hand with the introduction of Anne Boleyn to court life as she usher’s in a new alliance with the King, nudging Catherine of Aragon out for the most controversial divorce in history and the British religious split with the Papal might of Rome.
The fictionalised historical story makes for interesting enough reading all by itself, but it’s Mantel’s flare for constructing some of the greatest writing we’ve ever been lucky enough to read that makes Wolf Hall such a great book. Every word is carefully chosen, every sentence is alive with the power, whit and life of the time and every paragraph fires you on through the 651 pages as the drama rolls and pitches from calm and patient build-up to tumultuous crescendo and back again as it heaves it’s way through one of the most infamous periods of English history.
It’s also her stance on the story that makes it stand out so much as it provides a new take on Thomas Cromwell that builds up the personal and family life of the man that went on to be one of the most influential in Europe. The approach makes the story so much more engaging as it gets under the skin of the very human interactions that surrounded the battle of words that dominated the period between 1500 to 1535.
In addition to having truly evocative descriptions of the settings, people, customs and costumes in London and throughout England, Wolf Hall is also packed with a non-stop torrent of amazing dialogue that ranges from intense disagreements, to courtly banter and intrigue. It’s packed to the brim with the kind of interaction that genuinely blows your mind and leaves you wondering how Hilary Mantel has managed to put together such perfection on a massive scale.
Characterisation is one of the book’s most impressive traits and every one is like flesh and sinew as soon as they enter the storyline, whether it’s Thomas’ crazed and violent father, the intricately constructed Mary Bolyn or the brief introduction to the King of France. There’s inevitably a whole lot of characters, but with Mantel’s ability to breath life into each one, you end up with a rich portrait of the story that leads up to Henry VIII’s trip to Wulfhall.
Hilary Mantel, Wolf Hall review: 5/5