Book Review: Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel (published by Fourth Estate)
I picked up this book after doing an online writing webinar which extolled the brilliance of the language and praised the book as being one of The. Best. Ever. Seriously, the praise was lofty, so I went to my local library (which I LOVE) and found a copy. Unfortunately, the teacher of that webinar’s tastes and mine are clearly miles (many, many, miles) apart!
I read 49 per cent of this book before I gave up. But I didn’t feel angry, or let down, which I often do when I can’t finish a book, I felt like I’d had a good read. This is a big, fat door wedge of a book and reading half of it is the same as reading an average novel. And, as I know the ending (as EVERYONE who ever did history in school in the UK probs does) I had zero compulsion to read on.
Wolf Hall is about Henry VIII wanting to divorce his first wife Katherine of Aragon and marry Anne Boleyn. We all know how that works out… (Side note: who remembers learning this little chant for their history exam: “Divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived"?! Just me?!). Anyway, it’s told from the point of view of Thomas Cromwell, a shrewd lawyer who has an incredible memory and doggedly works his way up the chain of command to work for the King himself.
What went wrong? Firstly, the overuse of ‘HE’. There are pages of conversation that completely lost me, as ‘he’ is used to refer to Cromwell and the man he’s talking to, plus the man (or invariably men) that they are talking about. He said x, he thought, he’s gone and done y, he said, he looked up, he shrunk into the shadows, he asked, he waited, he came in. “Wait! What? Who?!” I cried out loud numerous times. It was tedious to start off, with but then I got into it and didn’t mind so much.
After I’d got used to all the HEs, I started to really enjoy the story. Especially the Cardinal Thomas Wolsey plotline. Cromwell was a vivid, well-formed character and I liked seeing his home life and his court life. The language is truly beautiful in places, the kind of thing you stop to re-read a sentence and pause to think, really think, about the image it evokes.
But then the Wolsey story ended and the plot stalled. Cromwell seemed to become a narrator of events and the Henry VIII wants to marry Anne Boleyn story began to seriously drag around the point I gave up. I hoped there would be something else happening alongside this to keep me interested after the cardinal plot line was wrapped up, and maybe the story picks up again later but life's short and my to read list is long...
This novel is like marmite, and by looking at other reviews, people seem to love it or hate it. I think if you are a big lover of historical fiction, and of Henry VIII, like long books and are open to some confusing overuse of ‘he’, then you might like this. Sadly, not for me.
My rating: 1/5
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