Monday, 21 June 2010

Wolf Hall

Wolf Hall Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This book proved to me - much to my surprise - that it is possible to write a historical novel in the present tense without it becoming unreadable. The quality of the writing probably had something to do with it, but after struggling a little bit at the start I was drawn in.

Thomas Cromwell may seem an unlikely hero. He's almost invariably the deep-dyed villain of any novel in the era so it's a pleasant change to see things from his POV and he comes across as a very sympathetic character. In fact he seems to go out of his way to accommodate people. Thomas More, for example, gets thrown lifeline after lifeline, which of course he rejects.

It is sometimes just a little hard to work out who is speaking. There's a lot of conversation in this, and the author likes her personal pronouns. 'He' is however, not always Thomas Cromwell in these exchanges.

One oddity - it's stated that Elizabeth Woodville gave Edward IV a (remote) claim to Castile. News to me. It may be true, but if so it was vastly inferior to his own claim, which he made in heraldry from the start of his reign. (See the Edward IV Roll for proof). La Woodville had many qualities, but claims to thrones was not one of 'em.

This apart no historical issues jumped out of me, and the author juggled a very large cast of characters with great success. Having said all that, I still don't like present tense for HF and beg and plead with all authors out there to refuse to use it!!!

I do recommend the book, and I don't think it's a hard read. In fact, if it's classed as a literary novel, which it seems to be, it's a lot more accessible than most of that genre.

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  1. I am ashamed to say that this one is still sitting on my shelf. My husband, however, enjoyed it thoroughly and went on to read her French Revolution novel (my mind is blanking on the title).

  2. I must admit, I didn't expect to like it. Henry VIII plus present tense sounded like a big no no. But in the spirit of enquiry I gave it a try and I enjoyed it.

  3. Cromwell definitely did well out of "The Tudors" in terms of relative sympathy as well. If I recall my portraiture at all, James Frain is WAY more flattering in terms of attractiveness casting to Cromwell than Rhys Meyers is to Big Henry.

    Intercultural tidbit: My primary and secondary school exposure to Tudor history and the English Reformation, seeing as I'm the product of 13 years of American private Catholic education, focused ENTIRELY on what a great guy "Saint" Thomas More was. I think we were made to watch the Paul Scofield "A Man for All Seasons" at least 3 times. They threw in the Richard Burton/Peter O'Toole version of Jean Anouilh's "Becket", just in case there was any doubt about how English clergy were all angels and English kings were all ogres.

    I needn't tell you that although Martin Luther's theological and church governance grievances were laid out with comparative honesty (Holy Mother Church has basically caved on all points except clerical celibacy by the time I was a teenager), I only found out the name "Borgia" after stumbling across a copy of E. R. Chamberlin's "The Bad Popes" that had somehow been left in the stacks by a monastic librarian who wasn't paying much attention.

    It was quite an eye opener.

  4. So beautifully written. Almost like poetry in places. Just remember, when the author says "he", it is Cromwell speaking. Went right to the sequel.

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