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Customer Review

57 of 65 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 'Some are lies and some are true; but they are all good stories', 12 Sept. 2011
This review is from: Wolf Hall (Hardcover)
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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Showing 1-6 of 6 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 12 Feb 2013 14:27:11 GMT
The Thomas Cromwell of Wolf Hall is indeed a man out of time; in fact, he's an anachronism. His wholly modern sensibilities didn't exist at the start of what Henry Kamen rightly called 'The Iron Century'. Enjoy Wolf Hall as fiction, but it's no history lesson.

In reply to an earlier post on 8 Mar 2013 20:44:34 GMT
Cisco Kid says:
I can hardly call myself a learned scholar, but I have to agree "he" just didn't ring true (despite being a fascinating character)! And how can Mantell possibly be called one of our greatest writers with such patchy , contrived prose ?

Posted on 15 Jun 2013 10:32:22 BDT
Thank you for this nice review. I have just finished reading the novel and I was as positively impressed as yourself. There seems to be much whining over the writing style. Mantel used the present tense and her particular style of punctuation to help us inhabit the mind of her Cromwell. It doesn't take so long to get accustomed to it. There is much to be missed by those who can't handle the punctuation. And I agree that it does seem a wonderful lesson in history!

In reply to an earlier post on 10 Jul 2013 12:51:42 BDT
Peter Smith says:
Is there any particular reason why she should use 'her particular style of punctuation' and not the punctuation used by every other writer of the English language and recognized by every reader? You know - the one that's taught in every school? Why should you have to 'get accustomed' to what amounts to borderline illiteracy?

In reply to an earlier post on 10 Jul 2013 13:03:35 BDT
Literature is all about breaking the mould. She uses a style that helps her represent Cromwell the way she likes. The reader is made to hover around him, inside and out. Those are tricks you can achieve by disrupting the language.

In reply to an earlier post on 10 Jul 2013 13:37:50 BDT
Peter Smith says:
Literature is not about 'breaking the mould'. I can name dozens of classic works of literature which obey the normally and generally accepted rules of grammar, which took literature in new directions, and which are infinitely better than this shoddy offering. Much of this book is, as I said before, borderline illiterate. It's also clumsy, frustrating to try to read and suggests that the author simply couldn't be bothered to do it properly. 'Disrupting the language', as has been done in this novel is, frankly, little more than an admission of failure and an acknowledgement of incompetence.
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