Thursday, March 3, 2011

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

Wolf Hall fictionalizes the life of Thomas Cromwell, a chancellor of Henry VIII who helped engineer his marriage to Anne Boleyn and modernized English government. It won the Booker Prize in 2009. In Wolf Hall, Thomas runs away from home as a teenager after his alcoholic blacksmith of a father tries to kill him, and learns resourcefulness as a mercenary soldier in Europe. He becomes a trader in Antwerp and eventually returns to England as a lawyer. In case you're wondering if Oliver Cromwell makes an appearance in this book: no. He's Thomas' great nephew.

You may remember Cromwell as the villain from the play A Man For All Seasons by Robert Bolt. Cromwell is a more complex character in Wolf Hall, trying to persuade More to sign the oath which recognized Henry as the head of the Church in England, to save his life. But eventually Sir Thomas More is given the same death sentence as More ordered years earlier for Protestant heretics. For his part, Cromwell has memorized the Bible in English and is friends with the Bible printers and smugglers, despite being loyal to his politically unpopular employer Cardinal Wolsey, even after Wolsey's death.

I did enjoy the book, but wish I hadn't listened to the audiobook. There's just something about driving home in the gloominess of January and February nights (that's how long it took me to finish) listening to a tale set in times when life was nasty, brutish and short. A multitude of flashbacks and characters with the same name is a challenge when you can't flip through an actual book!

1 comment:

Eesti said...

This is not a novel for one who lacks at least a basic awareness of the main players from history. It is not an easy read. But it is one that I could not put off finishing. I'd rate it a 4 star and perhaps more telling of my evaluation is that I look forward to reading the sequel, irritating writing style notwithstanding.