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on 6 June 2017
How do you review a book that has been around for so long, been staged and on tv? I have recently reread this book for another project, and been overwhelmed by just how good it is, and how reluctant I was to finish it. My previous comments on it revolve largely around how long it took me to read it, how tricky it was to follow, and such like moans. It is still a long book, an undertaking to read, and requires a new mind set to appreciate the new view it offers of a time, place and people. Diana Athill wrote “I can’t think of anything since Middlemarch which so convincingly creates a world.” As Middlemarch is a favourite of mine for its creation of a time, place and people, I can completely understand what she means.
Wolf Hall is a book about Thomas Cromwell. It is told from his point of view, but not in the first person. This creates a narrative in which we see the world through Thomas’ eyes, be where he is, know something of what he knows, but we can also pull back and see him, asking questions of himself as he sorts out the lives of others. Thomas in this version is a ‘fixer’, the supreme pragmatist who does what has to be done to whoever needs sorting out. His memory is a blessing in this work, but a curse as he copes with the loss of his wife and daughters. The loss of his family haunts this book, as does his awareness of ghosts of the past, those who lived in a house before him, and Cardinal Wolsey’s enormous personality. He copes with the women of the court, Anne, Katherine, Mary and the others that serve them with caution and sometimes confusion, seeing them as another problem to solve as well as possible actors in his scenarios. King Henry is sometimes a child to be placated, an impossible, querulous dictator. Cromwell has his measure in this book, but remains under no illusions that he must proceed with caution to avoid potentially fatal confrontations.
This is not a perfect book. It takes its time to get anywhere, and sometimes gets bogged down under the weight of its constant thinking, reaction and action, plotting and planning. Yet it is a human book in its diverse progress, the tangents and confusions that we can understand. Life in this period could be and often was short and brutal, and this book shows us how and why. Mantel has said that she was keen to look at the events of Henry’s reign through other eyes than the wives, the King himself, the minor functionaries of court. Thomas Cromwell was the supreme fixer of problems and situations. This book shows you how and why, as well as the human thought processes behind his survival and success in a dangerous time.
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on 7 July 2017
I was sooo keen to read this - especially after watching the TV series, which I completely loved. For the most part, I wasn't disappointed. It's such a novel way of exploring Henry VIII's relationship with Anne Boleyn, not to mention the complex divorce proceedings that preceded it - through the eyes of Thomas Cromwell, the man partially responsible for orchestrating the whole thing.

Immediately, I was struck by Hilary Mantel's remarkable ability to capture life of that time - making it seem strangely familiar, despite the fact it was hundreds of years ago. She made it all seem so real, largely due to her richness of detail, not to mention expert knowledge of the era. The little notes of humour throughout are what really bring it to life - so often, history is treated with utmost seriousness, yet Mantel is absolutely correct - I'm sure people were cracking jokes and saying silly things in the Tudor era too!

The relationships were likewise beautifully illustrated, and the death of Cromwell's wife, genuinely moving. For me, this was one of the most impressive moments of the book, as Mantel captures grief so powerfully and yet so simply.

One thing I did find strange though - the way Mantel uses pronouns throughout the book. I pondered for ages about why it jarred on me every so often, and I think it's because the 3rd person narrative is so intimate, it almost feels like a 1st person in places. Then, when she uses 'he' again, rather than 'I', it is momentarily confusing. I found myself wondering what the book would have been like had she just told it in first person through Cromwell's eyes - my personal belief is that it might have worked better.

Also, although the richness of the detail was spectacular, there were times when I felt that it held up the narrative slightly. I appreciate her desire to capture every moment of these tumultuous historic events, but at times, I did find them a wee bit boring.

However, for the most part, I was really into this book, and loved the character of Cromwell to bits. A man from a humble background, unfailingly pragmatic and clever - fabulous stuff!
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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 11 May 2017
If you haven't read this book then you really should. I think this is and the sequel Bring Up the Bodies are in my top 10 books of all time. I enjoyed this from start to finish and am always recommending it.
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on 27 May 2014
This is a great book but it's difficult to follow on kindle, I had to switch to a paperback to finish it, the characters all have similar names and the relationships are tangled, in the paperback they have a guide at the front you can flick back to. I only managed to finish it after a friend suggested reading it on paperback.
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on 24 August 2017
I feel an opportunity is missed here. The times and characters are so interesting and it was one of the greatest and most influential periods of English History. However I did not experience that and there seemed so many longueurs as to fall well short of a great novel.
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on 31 March 2015
I adore this book. The richness of the research, the clarity and freshness of the writing are wonderful. But mostly I love how Mantel makes Cromwell such a fully faceted human being that you like him and are rooting for him from the first line of the first page. Sheer genius. Well deserving of all its accolades.
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on 12 March 2017
Very useful to be able to download onto kindle but this is only a part of the whole book and works out much more expensive than the paperback.
I love historical novels but this is heavy going.
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on 26 July 2017
How did this win anything? The story is just lifted from history, the interest level flatlines and the damn book seems to go on for ever!
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on 2 August 2017
Review relates to Kindle product - alas, the usual Kindle problem of missing words/lines at the end of pages (or maybe the beginning of the next page?) - particularly with a closely plotted book like Wolf Hall, I have often wondered whether I have missed a bit and paged backwards & forwards/reloaded to check - it does distract from the enjoyment.......... But the book is excellent (I think!)
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