Wolf Hall

by Hilary Mantel | Literature & Fiction |
ISBN: Global Overview for this book
Registered by wingGoryDetailswing of Nashua, New Hampshire USA on 1/11/2020
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Journal Entry 1 by wingGoryDetailswing from Nashua, New Hampshire USA on Saturday, January 11, 2020
I got this softcover from the Book Cellar during its {sob} store-closing sale, for another release copy. It's the first in Mantel's excellent series of historical fiction based on the life of Thomas Cromwell, and as the third book, The Mirror and the Light, is due out in March, I wanted release copies of the first two to go with it.

I hadn't paid the books much notice until the 2015 mini-series aired, and even then it took me a while to be drawn in to the very, very low-key and internalized storytelling. But once I was hooked, I was hooked soundly.

I enjoyed this very much - and was amused at the compare-and-contrast with A Man for All Seasons (film version), which I caught on TV recently. It's entertaining to see how different specific characters seem when viewed from their rivals' side of things!

The author's style does take a bit of getting used to, from the asynchronous storytelling (which sometimes shifts times and settings without any overt clues, leaving the reader to scramble a bit) to the third-person-present-tense element in which Cromwell is mainly referred to by the pronouns "he/him/his", which can cause its own confusion in passages featuring lots of other he/him/his references. (Mantel sometimes inserts a "he, Cromwell" to clarify things, but the fact that this is sometimes necessary made me wonder at the author's choice in the first place.) Present tense does add some immediacy to the goings-on, and can distinguish what Cromwell's doing/thinking now with his memories of scenes past, but I found it more confusing than helpful. Not to the point of making me dislike the book, but I did notice it a number of times.

The details of life for the poor, the well-off, and the nobility all hit hard here, with some of the highest-born characters suffering pretty uncomfortable fates, and with everyone subject to sudden death from fever, accident - or Seriously Annoyed Authority Figure, though in that case there's usually at least a pretense of a trial, whether it's by the Church or by the King.

The delicacies of being the right-hand man for powerful figures such as Cardinal Wolsey and King Henry are made plain too, with Cromwell having to thread the needle of being useful and reliable without crossing over into unforgivable-insolence. (The Cardinal seemed to be an easier master in that respect - but while Cromwell does remain loyal to him, we see that Wolsey's hands aren't exactly clean either.)

The book made me want to do a lot of research, not only on the main characters but on the many secondary ones, some of whom actually survived the chaos in fairly good order. As depicted by Martel, Cromwell was excellent at providing a household full of likely youths (and a bright woman or two) to be trained up as clerks, accountants, and in some cases spies!

The contrast between his gradual climb to a truly impressive position, especially for one of his humble birth, and his own interior life - including his enduring grief over his daughters and wife, lost to fever - make for a compelling portrait of a man who had been something of a cardboard villain in other depictions. Fascinating novel!

I also enjoyed Bring Up the Bodies, the second book.

[There's a TV Tropes page on the books and TV series.]

Released 1 yr ago (5/7/2020 UTC) at Little Free Library, 607 Chestnut St in Manchester, New Hampshire USA


Guidelines for safely visiting and stocking Little Free Libraries during the COVID-19 pandemic, from the LFL site here.

I left this book in the handsome Little Free Library outside the funeral parlor while on a road trip on this beautiful day. Hope someone enjoys the book!

[See other recent releases in NH here.]

*** Released for the 2020 Movie challenge. ***

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