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719 of 800 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A magnificent tale
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...
Published on 16 Jun. 2009 by R. W. Mackenzie

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1,270 of 1,358 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Is it me, or is the grammar atrocious...?
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...
Published on 13 July 2012 by Mr. P. Benson


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1,270 of 1,358 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Is it me, or is the grammar atrocious...?, 13 July 2012
By 
Mr. P. Benson "PJB" (Scotland) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
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This review is from: Wolf Hall (Hardcover)
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.
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632 of 676 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A review written using the literary style of Hilary Mantel, 28 Jan. 2013
This review is from: Wolf Hall (Paperback)
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.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Too long, 14 Sept. 2013
This review is from: Wolf Hall (Paperback)
This book contained numerous sections of very fine writing. Some parts - I am thinking particularly of the death of Thomas C's family - were exquisitely moving. The colourful world of the Tudor court was brought convincingly to life, with carefully selected details conjuring up the sights, sounds, textures and smells of the period.

Unlike other reviewers, I did not find the style confusing: I felt it was consistent and pretty clear.

However, the book was just TOO LONG. Despite the many, many instances of beautiful and elegant writing, which I really enjoyed, the story dragged. To be honest, I felt it never really picked up after the Cardinal died (the sections about the cardinal were among my favourite). It just needed some really ruthless editing! There were entire passages, even characters, that could have been dispensed with altogether. For instance, the trip to the Calais pub where he meets the two guys about the contraption-thingy (I never really 'got' that): the whole sub-plot should have been left out. In my humble opinion, of course.

I read this book while on holiday and was nearly going to leave it at the airport to make my bag lighter - despite only having skim-read the last few pages. I didn't care any more. She had lost me. Such a shame, because if the book had been a third shorter (or even half the length!) I can see it being one of the best books I've ever read. As it is, I can see why it has been admired, but it just didn't do it for me.
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880 of 955 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Worthy but no need for it to be so confusing, 21 Oct. 2009
By 
Mr. Paul J. Wyatt (Derby, England) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Wolf Hall (Hardcover)
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.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Mixed Bag!, 28 Jan. 2015
By 
Seeker (London, UK) - See all my reviews
My take on Wolf Hall is that it is a fascinating book and a tremendous achievement by Hilary Mantel. Moreover, as someone who has a particular interest in this period of history, I think her vision of Cromwell and his role in history could well be much more accurate than the traditional interpretation. I also suspect that her characterisation of Henry could well be correct.
There is a big "but" though - as many reviewers have pointed out it is poorly written, confusing and at times tedious. It is also inordinately long as was demonstrated by the fact that it was transformed into a relatively short play or now a relatively short television series. The play and the television series were clearly expertly edited; I rather suspect that the book never saw an editor at all.
So it depends on how one takes one's literature - or supposed "masterpiece". If one sees a masterpiece as a grand and novel vision linked to brilliant characterisation, I would say that Wolf Hall is. If though one wants excellent and creative use of language, I am afraid it fails miserably.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Not an enjoyable read, 22 Jan. 2015
This review is from: Wolf Hall (Paperback)
I have owned this book for a few years and never managed to read it, but with the new tv series airing i decided to give it another go. But the terrible writing style does not lend to a relaxing reading experience. You end up spending more time deciphering who "he" is in each context, then actually reading the book. The tv series is very good so don't waste your time reading this.
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719 of 800 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A magnificent tale, 16 Jun. 2009
This review is from: Wolf Hall (Hardcover)
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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.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Confusing .... or is it just me?, 19 Mar. 2013
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This review is from: Wolf Hall (Paperback)
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??!!
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37 of 41 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Hate Marmite - Love Wolf Hall, 7 Mar. 2013
This review is from: Wolf Hall (Paperback)
I hadn't heard great things about Wolf Hall before I read it. One friend, giving me a copy, told me, "This will probably make more sense to you because you did history." Another told me he forced himself to plod through it because he felt obliged since it had won an award.

I then attended a new book group, where eleven members, all female, said they hated Wolf Hall, didn't want to read the sequel, and mostly hadn't bothered to finish reading it. I was shocked.

Some of the complaints included;

It's too long - I kept forgetting what had happened

I had to keep referring to the list of characters at the front

Mantel always refers to Cromwell as 'he', even in the middle of a paragraph about other people, which is confusing.

Everyone is called Thomas!

I didn't understand what I was reading because of the way it is written.

It's like Marmite.

Well, I hate Marmite, but I loved Wolf Hall. It is very long, but it's not a hard read, and quite pleasurable. If, like me, you have studied Tudor History at school or University, of if you enjoyed The Tudors (the first season at least), you will probably find this an easier read because you will have visions of James Frain, or the paintings of Holbein all the way through this book. That said, this is not just another historical novel. It's in a league of it's own because despite pulling together a huge amount of information, it is still well written. I found myself reading passages of it slowly, to take in the many implications, and the subtle skill with which they were delivered.

The story is given from the perspective of Thomas Cromwell, a lawyer who becomes a statesman at the court of Henry VIII. He finds himself having to handle the temper tantrums of Anne Boleyn, and Henry's fight with the church to marry her. Unfortunately, while he can sweet-talk the king, he makes himself very unpopular with the nobility, who see him as a common upstart.

Cromwell's unique talents lie in his background as a troubled young boy when he was regularly beaten by his blacksmith father, his years abroad as a soldier, his expertise as a cloth merchant, and his education under his patron Cardinal Wolsey. He can hold his own in a fight, make armor, skin a deer and talk his way into Henry's court. Mantel depicts him as an endearing character, humble, intelligent, kind to women, children and animals, fiercely loyal, he serves as a contrast to the betrayal and treachery of the Howards and the friends of the King. It does make me wonder how any successful Tudor statesman could have been this nice. I suspect he wasn't, but Mantel's perspective is a new one for Cromwell, and it's a refreshing change. As a reader it helps if we care about our lead character, and faced with this bunch I'd say Mantel was hard pushed to find anyone we'd really empathise with, who would carry us this far through the story.

The novel has everything you would hope for in a book about Tudor times, gruesome burnings, dangerous plots, lewd comments - mostly about women, and details that make the subject matter fresh and enjoyable even if you know the story by heart. The scenes imagined by Mantel, by necessity contain a lot of explication, but this is never a burden and always piques your interest. The politics is never dull if you have an interest in how and why Henry divided the church.

Even at the end of this hefty book (650 pages) I definately want to read the sequel. It's partially that age-old appeal of the Anne-Henry story, but also the skill of the writer. Mantel tackles so much information, that has been dealt with so many times before, and yet pulls it together into a story that feels revelatory. She has a gift for creating an enjoyable, epic story.

I have purchased Bring Up the Bodies - in hardback no less, can't wait for the BBC adaptation and look forward to the final installment.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars cromwell&al - yet again, 17 Feb. 2015
This review is from: Wolf Hall (Paperback)
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).
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Wolf Hall
Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel (Paperback - 4 Mar. 2010)
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