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In the ruthless arena of King Henry VIIIs court, only one man dares to gamble his life to win the kings favor and ascend to the heights of political power
England in the 1520s is a heartbeat from disaster. If the king dies without a male heir, the country could be destroyed by civil war. Henry VIII wants to annul his marriage of twenty years, and marry Anne Boleyn. The pope and most of Europe opposes him. The quest for the kings freedom destroys his adviser, the brilliant Cardinal Wolsey, and leaves a power vacuum.
Into this impasse steps Thomas Cromwell. Cromwell is a wholly original man, a charmer and a bully, both idealist and opportunist, astute in reading people and a demon of energy: he is also a consummate politician, hardened by his personal losses, implacable in his ambition. But Henry is volatile: one day tender, one day murderous. Cromwell helps him break the opposition, but what will be the price of his triumph?
In inimitable style, Hilary Mantel presents a picture of a half-made society on the cusp of change, where individuals fight or embrace their fate with passion and courage. With a vast array of characters, overflowing with incident, the novel re-creates an era when the personal and political are separated by a hairbreadth, where success brings unlimited power but a single failure means death.
- Amazon Sales Rank: #2987 in Books
- Published on: 2009-10-13
- Released on: 2009-10-13
- Original language: English
- Number of items: 1
- Dimensions: 1.67" h x 6.56" w x 9.52" l, 1.85 pounds
- Binding: Hardcover
- 560 pages
- ISBN13: 9780805080681
- Condition: New
- Notes: BUY WITH CONFIDENCE, Over one million books sold! 98% Positive feedback. Compare our books, prices and service to the competition. 100% Satisfaction Guaranteed
Amazon Best of the Month, October 2009: No character in the canon has been writ larger than Henry VIII, but that didn't stop Hilary Mantel. She strides through centuries, past acres of novels, histories, biographies, and plays--even past Henry himself--confident in the knowledge that to recast history's most mercurial sovereign, it's not the King she needs to see, but one of the King's most mysterious agents. Enter Thomas Cromwell, a self-made man and remarkable polymath who ascends to the King's right hand. Rigorously pragmatic and forward-thinking, Cromwell has little interest in what motivates his Majesty, and although he makes way for Henry's marriage to the infamous Anne Boleyn, it's the future of a free England that he honors above all else and hopes to secure. Mantel plots with a sleight of hand, making full use of her masterful grasp on the facts without weighing down her prose. The opening cast of characters and family trees may give initial pause to some readers, but persevere: the witty, whip-smart lines volleying the action forward may convince you a short stay in the Tower of London might not be so bad... provided you could bring a copy of Wolf Hall along. --Anne Bartholomew
From Publishers Weekly
Henry VIII's challenge to the church's power with his desire to divorce his queen and marry Anne Boleyn set off a tidal wave of religious, political and societal turmoil that reverberated throughout 16th-century Europe. Mantel boldly attempts to capture the sweeping internecine machinations of the times from the perspective of Thomas Cromwell, the lowborn man who became one of Henry's closest advisers. Cromwell's actual beginnings are historically ambiguous, and Mantel admirably fills in the blanks, portraying Cromwell as an oft-beaten son who fled his father's home, fought for the French, studied law and was fluent in French, Latin and Italian. Mixing fiction with fact, Mantel captures the atmosphere of the times and brings to life the important players: Henry VIII; his wife, Katherine of Aragon; the bewitching Boleyn sisters; and the difficult Thomas More, who opposes the king. Unfortunately, Mantel also includes a distracting abundance of dizzying detail and Henry's all too voluminous political defeats and triumphs, which overshadows the more winning story of Cromwell and his influence on the events that led to the creation of the Church of England. (Oct.)
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From Bookmarks Magazine
Critics were not surprised at Mantel's Booker Prize win, despite stiff competition that included A. S. Byatt's The Children's Book and J. M. Coetzee's Summertime. Wolf Hall offers a fascinating and expertly researched look at a man famously villainized in the play and film A Man for All Seasons and Showtimes's more recent bodice-ripping series The Tudors. Despite the effusive praise, critics thought that the vast array of characters (many named Thomas) and titles of nobility may leave some readers scratching their heads despite the guide Mantel provides in the book. Nevertheless, this intriguing human portrait should leave most readers anticipating the promised sequel.
The scope and breadth of this novel is immense. Hilary Mantel sets out to describe a tumultuous period in English history, not by focusing on the main event- Henry and Anne- but by showing the struggle faced by those more behind the scenes. Thomas Cromwell says, late in the book, that worlds are not changed by kings and popes, but by two men sitting at a table, coming to an agreement, or by the exchange of thoughts and ideas across countries. And that is what Mantel seems to believe, too; thus, she does not focus her story on the huge proclamations or big meetings. She shows us Cromwell, alone at his desk, thinking and reminiscing. She details short, almost off-hand conversations between Cromwell and his wonderful family. And then, sometimes, she will give us fascinating debates between Cromwell and Sir Thomas More, the "man for all seasons" who was ruthless in his practices to rid England of heretics.
Even the title of the book is more suggestive than straight-forward. Wolf Hall is the seat of the Seymour clan, but no scene in the book takes place there. The Seymours make cameos, and Cromwell takes note of them, but Wolf Hall is a distant building for most of the book. Instead, it represents Cromwell's forward thinking. He is grateful to the Boleyns for his rise in court and favor, but he does not allow himself to depend on them. He tells his son, "...it's all very well planning what you will do in six months, what you will do in a year, but it's no good at all if you don't have a plan for tomorrow." And Cromwell always, always has a plan for tomorrow.
I am not sure if I fully believe in Mantel's reconstruction of Cromwell as a man who wanted only to reform England, and was so forward-thinking in his ideals. However, it's understandable; Cromwell was a blacksmith's son who rose to prominence at a time when everyone important was noble or royal. Of course he would want the same opportunities for his family and friends. Perhaps in the promised sequel, we'll get the hardened and more ruthless Cromwell that people remember.
Mantel's writing style drew me in completely. This book reminded me a great deal of A Place of Greater Safety, in terms of writing style. I don't think I enjoyed it as much as that book, but that's probably because the French Revolution absorbs me far more than Tudor England does. Mantel writes so lyrically, so adeptly. She immerses herself in the period- the food, the clothes, the heat, the stench. She researched this book for years, and it's obvious in the product. But she does not get bogged down by her facts, or by history. Her flair for witty conversation brings her characters to life, giving them flesh and blood where history only gives them stark facts and wooden portraits. Yes, Cardinal Wolsey was able to tell a joke. Yes, Cromwell loved his wife. We don't see those things, 500 years later.
The only parts of the writing that annoyed me, stylistically, were as follows: first, Mantel usually uses quotation marks to denote conversation, but sometimes she does not; second, Mantel uses the pronoun "he" too much. The first is just frustrating in reading such a thick novel because it can interrupt a rhythm. The second is confusing because there are often multiple "he" in conversation, and you can't be sure who she is referring to, all the time.
Other than that, though- this book is great! Very worthy of the Booker Prize, in my view, and I look forward to the sequel. Lovers of epic, varied novels will be thrilled. Not only are extensive family trees provided, but there is also a five-page long list of characters. This isn't the sort of book you read for ten minutes on the morning commute. It's one to savor with a glass of wine.
Quality Historical Fiction
Wolf Hall is 2009's Man Booker Prize winner and was the favourite from the beginning with something like 10 to 11 odds at winning. The Booker judges have a habit of surprising but didn't do so this year.
I'm not an expert on the history from the time of Henry the 8th though it's certainly one of the most heavily mined topics in fiction. I began this book with only a basic knowledge of the history and was not familiar with the protagonist of the story Thomas Cromwell.
The novel has a short preamble from Thomas Cromwell's youth and then traces his rise from a common son of a blacksmith to one of the most powerful men in England. Through Cromwell, we experience Henry, Anne Boleyn, Thomas More, Thomas Wolsey and many, many other characters of the time. The main historical focus of the novel is the events leading to Henry's second marriage and the extreme philosophical and popular debate and passion that it causes.
The author deals with the events in great detail and focuses both on the debate, the reaction of the people and the intricate political wheeling and dealing. Mantel immerses us in the time and explains all sides very thoroughly. While I've mentioned that it's detailed, it doesn't really lag as for a 600+ page hisorical novel, it moves very quickly.
Thomas Cromwell is the star of the novel and through force of will, financial competence, good judgement and political savvy, he rises to power and wealth. He moves from poor child to a man with significant contacts and talent in the mercantile world to top advisor to Lord Chancellor Thomas Wolsey to ultimately Master Secretary to Henry the 8th. He is the backroom dealer and driving force that makes Henry's second marriage possible despite great opposition from the Roman Catholic Church and many others. He is also a trusted advisor to Anne Boleyn.
Throughout the novel, Cromwell is reminded of his humble beginnings and looked down upon by noblemen who wonder how he has been able to rise to such lofty heights.
I liked Wolf Hall but ..... I didn't love it. This is perhaps more a comment on my affinity for historical fiction and 16th century England than anything else. I certainly see why Wolf Hall won the Man Booker and have no particular objection to it. Ultimately, I wasn't emotionally affected by the novel and for me, that is the difference between a good novel and a great novel.
Maybe I'm being petty but Mantel also made choices that annoyed me. I had trouble with distinguishing characters at times and had to refer back to the listing of the characters frequently. There are a number of characters named Thomas, Anne, Mary etc. and she sometimes just used those single name labels to describe them. In a novel with a plethora of characters, this needlessly aggravated me. She also referred to characters sometimes by their names and other times titles. Fore example, sometimes she referred to the Duke of Suffolk as Charles Brandon and other times as Suffolk. Again, in a novel with many, many characters, I had some trouble keeping track of who was saying what. Sometimes when authors are very close to the material and the characters they can forget that the reader is not as familiar as they are. This was a flaw though not a fatal one.
Summary: Good book, well constructed, very detailed, very well researched. I liked it. It did lack emotional impact for me and while I appreciate it, I do not have much affection for it.
I recommend Wolf Hall especially to lovers of historical fiction.
An outstanding novel, to be sure.
I have to say that I love all things Tudor, and Wolf Hall is no exception, but it is exceptional. In most of the novels about Henry VIII's England, Cromwell plays a role, but he's never been the main character. Writers most often leave the famous wives of Henry VIII (divorced, beheaded, died; divorced, beheaded, survived) to play that role. In reality, not a lot is known about this person, but Hilary Mantel has woven her tale not only around Cromwell, but through him.
In Wolf Hall, Hilary Mantel takes a slice of Tudor history and allows the reader to view it through the eyes of Thomas Cromwell, who rose through life from his origins as the son of a blacksmith to become the chief minister of King Henry VIII. From his humble origins, he manages to become an important advisor to the ill-fated Cardinal Wolsey, who, as everyone knows, started his downhill slide because of his inability to provide Henry VIII with a Church-sanctioned divorce from Katherine of Aragon. It is, ironically, Wolsey's fall that begins Cromwell's rise. Cromwell survives by his own maxim: "inch by inch forward. Never mind if he calls you an eel or a worm or a snake. Head down, don't provoke him." (4) His fortune is on the ascendant throughout the story, but as everyone also knows, fortune is fleeting, and especially in this time largely at the whim of the king.
Mantel gives Cromwell, who is often vilified in many Tudor history accounts, a human face. While he's busy rewriting life at court to suit his majesty and most often, to suit himself and his own desires for reform, Cromwell also is shown to be a family man and a man with a heart who cares about those less fortunate than himself. Cromwell's present is largely defined through his past, and it is through Cromwell's eyes that the reader watches the Tudor world unfold.
Mantel's characterization is excellent -- Anne Boleyn comes off as a cold, calculating queen wanna-be who will stop at nothing to get her way. Mary Boleyn, the queen's former mistress, is a bit Ophelia-like, capturing Cromwell's sympathy. Mantel's Henry (via Cromwell) is a monarch more concerned about the lack of an heir rather than the tyrant or the woman chaser that many books make him out to be. The side players are also well characterized: aside from Cromwell's family and friends, the various dukes, courtiers, and people of the French Court become very human, often with the veneer of royalty and nobility stripped off to reveal crudity, greed, ambition jealousy and fear. Even some of the "common" people, the subjects of Henry VIII, are portrayed here.
Wolf Hall is simply a masterpiece. Even though it comes in at about 651 pages, it goes quickly as the reader gets caught up in the world Mantel so eloquently creates. I would highly recommend it to anyone interested in Henry VIII and that time period. Readers looking for something along the lines of "The Other Boleyn Girl" won't find it here...this is fiction at its finest.