1,310 of 1,402 people found the following review helpful
on 13 July 2012
My first book review, and I'm writing it because I'm annoyed. After reading much praise and noticing Mantel had won the booker prize I bought myself a Kindle version, but within a few pages I started becoming distracted by the structure of the writing.
I hesitate to challenge Mantel's grammar because I already know how well this book has been received, but from my point of view it's all over the place. I'm well aware that the rules of syntax can be broken for a number of good reasons, but if Mantel's approach is deliberate then it's completely lost on me.
The first problem is the use of the word 'he', at every opportunity, to refer to all of the three, four, or five people participating in the same scene. You're often left having to re-read every other sentence and to try and guess which person is speaking or being referred to. So determined to stick pronouns everywhere the author often puts one unnecessarily in front of a person's name "He, Cromwell, said..."
The second problem is the inconsistent format for denoting speech. Sometimes it has quotes around it, sometimes it doesn't. Sometimes you're reading something a character is thinking followed by what he's saying and then, even, what the narrator thinks about it, but without any syntactical indication of which is which.
Elsewhere there are multiple people speaking in the same paragraph, with and without quotes. Why?
Here's a good example of much of the above - all quotes and commas exactly as in the text:
'Yes, yes,' Cavendish says, 'we'll order up the barge.'
Good, he says, and the cardinal says, Putney? and he tries to laugh. He says, well, Thomas, you told Gascoigne, you did; there's something about that man I never have liked, and he says, why did you keep him them? and the cardinal says, oh, well, ones does, and again the cardinal says, Putney, eh?
He says, 'Whatever we face at journey's end...'
After a short while you begin to realise that 'he' is often Cromwell... except on the myriad occasions when it's not.
I hope this is not me being thick - I'm no scholar but I have read plenty of challenging books, written centuries apart in many different styles. I'm not convinced this is a deliberate style, but then I keep reminding myself it must have been edited and reviewed by somebody who makes it their business to scrutinise these things, and then it went on to win a prestigious writing award. Maybe I am being thick.
Leaving the grammar aside it reads like it's been heavily abridged and the narrative skims across time so rapidly it's often like reading a montage - a series of vignettes. Some characters are dwelled upon, others appear to step forward for a single line and then stand quietly to one side like a bit-part in a play. It's often as if the assumption is we're all Tudor historians and only need to read the person's name to understand their significance.
I'm giving this three out of five because I'm a big fan of well researched, rich, historical, fact-based fiction. This book could have been a favourite of mine, as it appears to be for many others, but it's let down too much by the choice (let's assume it's deliberate) of grammar and structure.
It's a comfort at least to know that I'm not alone:
A year after Mantel won the Booker Prize for Wolf Hall David Mitchell's 'The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet' failed to make it past the long-list. Mitchell's book is also a well researched, historical and (partially) fact-based book of a similar length. For me there is no comparison at all. Mitchell's writing is breathtaking; Mantel's is distracting. With Mitchell I was completely immersed, standing alongside the characters while the plot unfolded, with Mantel I was staring at some text on a page and trying to make sense of it.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
This is a book which demands attention. From the beginning it can be confusing. Someone is being beaten - the pronoun "he" is used excessively. To whom does it refer? With patience and time, this confusion passes and it becomes clear that when "he" is used it refers mainly to Thomas Cromwell for this is his story.
Most people will be familiar with the stories of Henry viii and his six wives and I must confess that when I saw that Hilary Mantel had added to the huge pile of literature on this subject I did wonder what she could add. We have been immersed in the stories especially it seems on film and tv: The Tudors; The Other Boleyn Girl; Anne of the Thousand Days; A Man for All Seasons for example. All different in their literary quality but all of them agreeing that Cromwell is a villain and Thomas More a saint. What Wolf Hall does is tell Cromwell's story in a fashion which is almost stream of consciousness but in effect is more accessible than that. The dialogue is brilliant. Take for example a scene where More is entertaining Cromwell in his house. More insists on speaking in Latin, a language his wife doesn't know. Eat up he exhorts them, "all except Alice who will burst out of her corset". This little scene shows us so much: the snobbishness of More, his contempt for his wife, the portliness of his wife.
The novel brings Cromwell to life. He is a fully rounded character dealt with sympathetically and with understanding but his faults are not brushed over.
I borrowed this book from the library when it was first released and gave up reading it almost immediately. The fault was mine. I didn't give it the attention it deserved; picking it up to read for a few minutes before going to sleep would never give justice to the style and substance of this book. Three years on, I bought it for my kindle and read it on holiday. A superb book which I was only happy to finish because I knew I had Bring Up the Bodies waiting for me.
679 of 728 people found the following review helpful
on 28 January 2013
She, the reviewer, thinks that she, Mantel, has written a novel which manages to be both stimulating and frustrating. She starts to ask herself `Why did she detract from the quality of her work by adopting such a silly writing style?' but then she remembers that she, Mantel, often doesn't put speech inside speech marks, and so she resolves not to do so for the rest of her review.
She, the reviewer, says, she has written a wonderfully plausible account of his, Cromwell's, thought processes. Which other novel does a better job of getting inside the mind of a major historical character, she asks herself. None that she can think of, she concludes. And she appreciates how wonderfully, through the medium of his thoughts, she has managed to illuminate life in Tudor London. She very much enjoys some of the rich humour in her descriptions of his dealings with people at all levels of society ranging from him, Henry, down to near-paupers. She also marvels at her wide-ranging research, which provides a wealth of historical detail and contains almost no errors. She says, almost, because she does detect a few minor mistakes, for example her description of his, Cromwell's, accusation that one of his, Norfolk's, ancestors helped to "disappear" the princes in the tower; which leads her to say, doesn't she, Mantel, realise that the use of "disappear" as a transitive verb only started in the late 20th century and was surely unknown in Tudor England? But she forgives her for such minor lapses: she says, they aren't important when set against all the good things in the book.
But then she thinks of a few things that perhaps are important blemishes. She wonders how she can write about the Tudor court and make relatively little effort to get inside her, Anne Boleyn's, mind, and her, Catherine of Aragon's, mind; not to mention his, Henry's, mind. She concludes that although she captures him brilliantly, she doesn't really illuminate the overall politics of the Tudor court very well; she thinks that she, Philippa Gregory, does a better job in this respect though she readily accepts that she, Mantel, is a more rounded literary novelist.
Then she asks herself why she makes the book unnecessarily long by inserting so many scenes with minor and largely inconsequential characters. She is almost tempted to skim her reading of some of these passages.
And she also thinks that she is over-rated by the professional critics. She marvels at the book's dust-jacket, which quotes Diana Athill comparing Wolf Hall with Middlemarch. She, the reviewer, thinks, does she, Athill, really think that she, Mantel, is as good as her, George Eliot? She doesn't think so: she says, no character in Wolf Hall, not even he, is as entertainingly infuriating as Middlemarch's Edward Casaubon; and Wolf Hall isn't as broad-themed and timeless as Middlemarch. And she also reflects that if she were to review Middlemarch using the literary style of her, George Eliot, she would be able to write her review in proper English.
And that brings her back to her starting point: why does she, Mantel, degrade the quality of her novel by choosing to write it in a style that looks like an entry for Private Eye's Pseuds Corner? Does she think it's sophisticated? If so, she thinks she's very wrong.
895 of 971 people found the following review helpful
on 21 October 2009
Have finished this book and am sure it's very worthy of all the accolades but I really found this quite a hard slog and I'm quite a prolific reader. The story is really interesting but I am so glad to see other reviewers on here that had the same horrendous problem of trying to follow who was talking whenever there is any dialogue. Fair enough to refer to Cromwell as "he" if you're going to stick to that and use it exclusively, but when you use "he" for other people during the same conversation, it's really confusing and I found myself having to re-read paragraphs containing dialogue (as a result this took me so much longer to read than normal and I feel like I've read it 3 times). Obviously am not one to comment on such a good writer but it would have been so much more of a pleasure (rather than a chore) to read if it had been either written in first person or clearer reference used as to who is talking.
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on 19 March 2013
After reading many great reviews for this book, I was so looking forward to reading it. However, I am finding it hard going! I am not a particularly fast reader, but has taken me a week (reading only for a short time at bedtime) to reach page 140 which is slow going even for me! I find I'm having to re-read whole passages to establish who is saying what to whom. Some dialogue is in quotes, some is not as it is being recalled by someone else, but that's not really clear until you re-read it. It also seems to 'jump' around in time - one minute it is in the 'present' with Cromwell talking to someone, then it veers off and he is talking or recalling a conversation with someone else at a different time, but without any clear indication that this is what's happening - it's just all in amongst! I am finding it difficult to actually explain what I mean but I think if you read it, you will see.
I have read many historical novels over the years, mostly to do with the Tudors and have even read quite a bit of non-fiction on the subject, but I am finding this book one of the most difficult to get into. I will, however, persevere as I never start a book and not finish it. Maybe it's just the author's style of writing, which is different from anything else I've read, that I need to get used to. So ... if my opinion has changed by the time I get to the end of the book, I will let you know. I would be interested to know if anyone else shares my view - or am I just not as bright as I thought I was??!!
722 of 803 people found the following review helpful
on 16 June 2009
Anyone who paid attention in history classes at school will need little background to the events of Wolf Hall. The key events of the story take place over just less than a ten year period from the 1520s to the 1530s. Mantel has taken what is, supposedly, Britain's best loved history topic, Henry VIII and his divorce from Catherine of Aragon, marriage to Anne Boleyn and the resulting split with Rome and has melded it into a compelling story.
She has obviously had some of her work done for her - the key dramatic events, characters, plots and intrigue are fairly heavily based in fact, but what Mantel has done is to breathe life and substance into the historial figures to make them loveable, hateable, complex characters. At the centre of her book stands Thomas Cromwell, a man from humble origins who rose to unprecedented power in England as Henry's chief minister. Cromwell is beautifully portrayed and his personal relationships, be they loving, tragic or political are fascinating reading. The relationships with Wolsey and More in particular are executed wonderfully (no pun intended in the latter case).
My only grumble with the book were that some events are included, but skated over in short passages and other events are included, but drag a little. This is probably an inevitable part of a historical novel covering such a long period of time; you can't simply leap forward 2 years and avoid the need to understand certain intervening events. However, whilst this slows the pace of the book in places, I enjoyed the book so much that it didn't particularly spoil it for me (indeed, those who prefer a fast paced novel are probably not going to enjoy Wolf Hall).
The book ends shortly after the death of Thomas More, and I can't be only one who wonders (and hopes) whether we might yet see a second, "decline and fall" book. I'd certainly love to read it.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 21 February 2015
Although this is a great story on TV the book is strangely written so it is very difficult to follow.
It is disjointed and after reading it for a few hours I simply gave up because it jumps from one stage to the next with little if any continuity.
Sometimes it appears to be written in the first person and others in the 3rd person. It is even difficult to know that.
It may be great story line but the style of writing is so difficult to read and follow what is happening.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 17 February 2015
After its hearing of so much praise I was really looking forward to reading Wolf Hall. However, when I first started reading it I was really confused and even gave up for some time. Later I decided to give it one more try. This time I did finish it but I still was (or have been?) quite confused. Firstly, I definitely agree with those who claim that it is really difficult to find out who is who. The trouble is that the author uses different types of narrators and sometimes it is simply too hard to follow who is saying or thinking what. Moreover, I found myself wondering several times what made the author choose this particular topic, or, rather, this particular historical period which has been studied in minute detail and processed dozens of times by dozens of experts and different authors. Mantel herself claims she wanted to give an account of the period from Cromwell’s point of view, to write a novel about Cromwell. On 650 pages she thus delivered a portrait of a man who rose from being nobody to being one of the most powerful men in the kingdom. He is the central character and all the other characters with no exception only help enhance his dominance but as there is little known about his life before Henry, so is little known about him in general and this lack of information is strongly felt in the entire novel, no matter how happy and free an author can feel when provided with so much creative liberty. Cromwell’s past is as misty and mysterious as is his entire character. Actually, all characters are quite flat and one-sided and as far as the most important events are concerned, even these are only mentioned parenthetically as if their only purpose was to push the plot forward (which perhaps it was).
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 4 April 2013
So much has been written about this it is hard to add much more but as I came to it late there was always the chance of over expectation. That was definitely not the case. Hilary Mantel's writing is wonderful. I normally find novels written in the present tense slightly strained but here it lends an immediacy and freshness to a story most of us in England know to some degree. The choice of Cromwell as protagonist was inspired: a commoner who rose to the highest offices in the land and a confident of a King as well as Cardinals, Lords, Ambassadors and paupers.
Looking at other less positive reviews, I feel I ought to comment on the style of the writing. It is written in the present tense in a narrative mode sometimes referred to as "third person subjective omniscient". Cutting through the jargon it means it is written using the third person ("he") but from the view point of one character (Thomas Cromwell) with occasional short passages describing events that have happened elsewhere but we never hear the thoughts or feeling of anyone else. Hilary Mantel has a large vocabulary and also uses terms from the times so be prepared to reach for a dictionary at times. I like to think my vocabulary is large but I still had to look things up on a few occasions. She uses variations in thinks like sentence length to control pace and and feel. She can be terse. She can meander around and around and fill space and time with images, smells, scents and thought as she explores the possibilities in her protagonist's mind. She is not Dan Brown writing a formulaic page turner, she is writing a powerful piece of English. If you don't revel in the use of language I doubt this book will be for you.
I loved her style and cannot recommend this too highly and of course now will soon embark on the sequel. I do feel sorry for the RSC whole are bringing the works to the stage later in the year. There is so much here, so many lively characters they will need a modern Shakespeare to do it justice.
53 of 59 people found the following review helpful
on 13 August 2013
I feel like such a philistine writing this as so many have enjoyed this book but I have to say that it just didn't work for me. The main issue is that the style that it is written makes it incredibly difficult to follow what is happening and who the action is following. This meant that I found it very difficult to emotionally attach myself to the characters and to be honest I often found myself meandering through the text and then giving up and getting a cup of tea.
Maybe it's just me but sadly I do not rate this book. Sorry