Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Booker book #44: Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel, is not really the story of Wolf Hall at all. It is the story of Thomas Cromwell, counselor to King Henry VIII during the English chapter of the great Protestant Reformation.

The story begins with young Thomas on the ground looking at his father's boot. Not surprisingly, young Thomas runs away, to become a soldier, a wool trader, and eventually a lawyer. It is in that capacity that he serves Cardinal Wolsey, counselor to King Henry. When the Cardinal dies, Thomas's great intellectual and psychological abilities, especially his gifts in finance, allow him to become one of the king's most intimate advisors and thus one of the most powerful and wealthy men in the realm.

Meanwhile, all the drama of the King's predicament is swirling around the court. The Reformation is afoot, and King Henry wishes to divorce his first wife in order to marry his second. What's curious is that Wolf Hall is the ancestral home of his third wife, Jane Seymour, whom he hardly glances at in this book, which ends before the death of second wife Anne Boleyn.

The book is written in a unique style, unlike any other historical fiction I have read. There are plenty of concrete historical details, yet the narration can be poetically abstract. I enjoyed learning more about this historical period; however, I did find the narration confusing at times. So many characters have the same first names, and so many characters are also known by a title. Usually "he" or "him" refers to Cromwell, but occasionally a first person "I" creeps in.

Nonetheless, I really felt that I knew and liked Cromwell...well after these 600 pages, and I'm looking forward to spending 12 CDs with him as I listen to the sequel, Bring up the Bodies, on audiobook. This second installment also won a Booker prize, in 2012.

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