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Absolutely wonderfully written look at the Tudor Court - not ,as usual, from the royal perspective, but from that of secretary Thomas Cromwell. Cromwell is a mysterious character, rising as he did from the son of a blacksmith to one of the most important men in England. Ms Mantel has crafted a kind of stream of consciousness novel, combining actual events with the thoughts and feelings inside his head - like other reviewers I found this a challenge to begin with, but it works to flesh out Cromwell as we follow his actions.
All set against the precarious world of Henry VIII's court, where the king may turn on you at any time:

'The cardinal says, do you think this is a tilting ground? Do you think there are rules, protocols, judges to see fair play? One day, when you are still adjusting your harness, you will look up and see him thundering at you downhill.'
Planning to read the sequel once I've had a breather!
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on 10 January 2015
I'm sorry to say but I am hugely disappointed in Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel. I was quite looking forward to reading this novel but after reading from the first page to page 65 I had to give up. I found the book hard going and I just really wasn't getting into the story. The style of writing was to me a bit bizarre which put me off.

It would it been best to have read this book from the library instead of wasting money to purchase a copy.
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on 16 January 2015
With the forthcoming BBC series almost upon us I thought I would give this acclaimed book a try. Sad to say I found the writing style very strange and just could not get on with it at all. I gave up after fifty pages!
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on 3 June 2013
I am sorry but I must agree with some of the reviews above. I know that this title won the Man Booker but I just cannot understand why. The grammar and the general style of writing in this book is absolutely dreadful. 'Confusing' really doesn't cover it. There are so many characters in this book, which in itself is fine but the continual use of "he" "his" "him" "she" "hers" etc without so much as an attempt at indicating which particular person she is talking about is just 'mind boggling' and completely ruins the read. She can begin one sentence with "He" finish it with "Him" with a couple of "His" in between and you eventually realise that it was referring to 3 different people - but which ones? I have lost count of the number of times I have had to re-read previous pages to try to decide who she is actually describing. I really did want to read this book, I love this period in our history and I already have "Bring Up The Bodies" waiting in the wings but it is going to take so long to sort this one out I'm not sure I have enough life left to do them both.
Very very disappointed.
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on 12 September 2011
Mantel's Thomas Cromwell, the hero of this novel, is a man out of time, a modern man caught on the borderline between the superstitious Middle Ages and our more enlightened - but still angst-ridden - world. The very notion of Cromwell as an heroic figure goes against the grain, the received wisdom of standard histories in which the man is customarily presented as a ruthless schemer, an opportunist without morals or positive emotions; yet here he is, a sentimental family man, and not merely a first-class brain but someone with feelings and flaws, fully human:

'He can draft a contract, train a falcon, draw a map, stop a street fight, furnish a house and fix a jury. He will quote you a nice point in the old authors, from Plato to Plautus and back again. He knows new poetry, and can say it in Italian. He works all hours, first up and last to bed. He makes money and he spends it. He will take a bet on anything.'

Wolf Hall's story - that grand, bloodstained and unforgettable period of Queen Catherine's fall and Anne Boleyn's rise - is of course well known but very well told; in fact, I doubt there's ever been a better English historical novel. In truth, there's almost too much to praise: every character, no matter how minor, is memorable; there are subtle forerunners of future Royal tragedies, unthought of in the Tudor period (Catherine's tightly-bound bodice is 'bejewelled as if to ward off blows' reminding one of the tragic Romanovs' fates); there are sublime moments when we step outside of the story's main thrust - Shakespearean interludes when the reader can almost see the mist rising from the Thames, hear the cries of the boatsmen, watch dandelion clocks borne on the summer breeze - while Mantel has Cromwell's thoughts tell us home truths that the sheer distraction of this world's 'show business' obscures:

'The fate of peoples is made like this, two men in small rooms. Forget the coronations, the conclaves of cardinals, the pomp and processions. This is how the world changes: a counter pushed across a table, a pen stroke that alters the force of a phrase, a woman's sigh as she passes and leaves on the air a trail of orange flower or rose water; her hand pulling close the bed curtain, the discreet sigh of flesh against flesh.'

The old cliché is nevertheless true of Wolf Hall: all human life can be found here, its good and its bad. The prose perfectly portrays those brutal, beautiful times, and is peerless. Forget the trashy 'Tudors' and a thousand other bodice-rippers - Wolf Hall is everything that is brilliant and rewarding about the best stories, and this one in particular tells the most enticing truths and nontruths.

An astounding book, easily the most magnificent history lesson I've ever received.
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on 26 November 2013
Found this book difficult to follow. Am very up on the Tudors but even so working out which Thomas was speaking broke the flow so was not an enjoyable read. Should have been better edited.
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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
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on 9 December 2013
Hilary Mantell unexpectedly turns the table on the traditional view of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn. Cleverly written from inside the character of Thomas Cromwell, the historical arch villain of the period, it provides a wholly engaging and believable insight into the complicated politics of the time and human relationships at court. Cromwell is a man with a hard and difficult upbringing, who by guile and luck rises in a machiavellian world of wheeling and dealing from a low beginning to a high position at court. But he has a real personality, loving and losing wife and children like many others. He is faithful to his mentor, cardinal Wolsey (also a well drawn personality) and a is cynic, distrustful of others, a necessity for survival.

Altogether a great read.
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on 9 May 2015
Normally the fact that a book has won The Booker Prize would have me avoiding it like the plague. However, ever since I watched The Six Wives of Henry VIII on BBC as a child I have been fascinated by this period in English History so I decided to put my prejudices to one side and give it a go. I'm so glad I did because I thought it was absolutely terrific.

While it deals with the stories that are familiar to all of us from numerous films and TV series - the downfall of Wolsey & Thomas More, the rise of Anne Boleyn - it is so much more. It is a rich, detailed tapestry of how life was lived in Tudor times. I loved reading about how the great feasts were celebrated - the elaborate festivities at Christmas and Halloween. The images stayed with me - a boy dressed as an orange for Halloween, Cromwell's daughter's peacock feather wings for a Christmas masque. Instead of the usual focus on the nobility, this novel shone a light on the rich merchant class into which Cromwell had worked his way, a sophisticated cosmopolitan world of well traveled, multilingual men who were outward looking and progressive. Into the tapestry Mantel also weaves the myths and legends of England's prehistory, every bit of court gossip from the period that you've ever read about or seen in a film, every character who ever played a part in this familiar story. It's encyclopaedic & incredibly entertaining.

While the style of the writing does take a bit of getting used to it's not an insurmountable obstacle and I liked that it slowed me down, took me closer to the pace of the sixteenth century, gave me time to appreciate the detail.

In all the countless books and films devoted to this period Cromwell is almost always the bogey man, the bully in chief, a ruthless, heartless enforcer. It was a groundbreaking change to have him as the hero and as portrayed here he comes across as appealing - warm, practical, devoted family man and nurturing mentor to his many wards. Crucially, a huge part of his character is his unwavering devotion to his own mentor, Wolsey, even after Wolsey's fall from grace. Cromwell is always pragmatic but he will not abandon Wolsey or forgive those who have humiliated him. Thomas More also has a major part to play and again is written in a slightly different way. I've always thought him a chilly idealist, even when he's being portrayed sympathetically but here he's also a zealous inquisitor, needlessly ascetic & somewhat repellent. Cromwell's pragmatism, his warmth and his determination to keep himself and everyone belonging to him safe makes him the more appealing character.

It requires a little effort to get into this book but that effort will be rewarded. Wolf Hall is both interesting and hugely entertaining.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 24 July 2014
Wolf Hall is the first of a trilogy of books concerning the life of Thomas Cromwell. Cromwell was a lawyer, worked closely with Thomas Wolsey and became a statesman in the court of Henry VIII. He is generally seen in history as quite a ruthless man but this interpretation of historical fact sheds a more kindly light upon Cromwell.
The first warning I must give about this book is that it is not for the faint hearted. It is over 600 pages long and takes up 22 CDs if you listen to the audio version as I did. A vast majority of the text is conversation which isn't always easy to follow as the author seems to be slightly haphazard about inverted commas. It is important to pay close attention to the conversations as there is little description to create the atmosphere and the reader needs to gain all of this from the speech.
The interplay between the characters in this book is quite wonderful. Wolsey and Cromwell share banter and humour which was very clever and in places made me laugh. Some of the characters and the way that other people describe them is also clever and amusing. The case in point is "Call me Risley" (I am sure this isn't how his name is spelt which is the point of the joke but I only listened to the book!). This is obviously the gentleman's stock phrase when meeting people and it becomes a bit of a joke with him being referred to later in the book simply as "Call me". It takes a skilled writer to create scenes, relationships and atmosphere using primarily conversation and there is no denying that Hilary Mantel is a skilled writer.
For all the enjoyment I got from the authors clever writing of conversation, I did find that it got a little tedious in places and had I been reading the paper version I wonder if I would have got quite bogged down perhaps to the point of giving up.
This book is based on sound historical research. I did get a real sense of the atmosphere of the Tudor times and the way that everyone in and surrounding the court of Henry VIII walked on eggshells the entire time. One wrong word or falling out with the wrong person and your life could be gone. Hilary Mantel interprets the character of Thomas Cromwell quite favourably in this book. His distress at the loss of his wife and his loyalty to Wolsey are sincere and run deep in his character. Most historians are not as positive when looking at the character of Cromwell but either interpretation could be possible from the facts - how are we to be sure?
I very much enjoyed this book despite its length and occasional sections which got a bit bogged down and repetative. I don't feel the imminent desire to read the next in the trilogy "Bring Out The Bodies" but should it be offered to me in audio form or if I had a long period of time to spend on the book then I could be tempted.
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