Sunday, October 13, 2013

Review: Wolf Hall

Book Review: Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

Things to know up front...

Recommended to: historical fiction fans

Objective Rating: 7/10

Subjective Rating: 10/10

Setting: Tudor England


  • Moderately frequent swearing, but touches on basically all curses on the profanity spectrum.
  • Frequent and varied forms of violence. A character experience domestic abuse, a character i known for getting into knife fights, the rack as a torture device is mentioned frequently, various forms of execution are mentioned and sometimes described in graphic detail, etc. 
  • No drug use. 
  • Sexual content isn't graphic, but is very relevant to the story line (we are in part talking about Henry VIII, after all).
  • Overall, it's a mature book, but I think that ages 13 and up should be able to handle it.
Description (Goodreads): England in the 1520s is a heartbeat from disaster. If the king dies without a male heir, the country could be destroyed by civil war. Henry VIII wants to annul his marriage of twenty years and marry Anne Boleyn. The pope and most of Europe opposes him. Into this impasse steps Thomas Cromwell: a wholly original man, a charmer and a bully, both idealist and opportunist, astute in reading people, and implacable in his ambition. But Henry is volatile: one day tender, one day murderous. Cromwell helps him break the opposition, but what will be the price of his triumph?

As an avid fan of history, especially that of Tudor England, Wolf Hall is a book that I've been intending to read for quite awhile, and honestly, I'm kicking myself a little for waiting so long to get around to it! I absolutely and completely adored it. 

The fluffy, worshipful review:

As far as historical fiction goes, this book was absolutely incredible. Heck, as far as fiction goes, this book was incredible. Mantel's writing style is probably one of the best that I've ever seen. Her words twist together so perfectly to create a mood (or is it tone? I get confused, kids) with so much gravity as you read about the seedy background of Henry VIII's grand life and court. The dialogue is filled with biting, witty double entendres that perfectly capture the two-faced nature of courtiers. Thomas Cromwell serves as a wonderful protagonist to experience the chaos of the revolutionary changes of the time period, as well as the effects of rising in power. Mantel did a marvelous job of believably fleshing out a person that history can't provide many details on, and I greatly admire the skill with which she weaved events together. Honestly, this is probably one of my favorite historical fictions that I've ever read. 

The realistic, 'this may not be everyone's cup of tea' review:

Though I loved the book, I recognize that there are issues with it that others may not be able to forgive:

  •  The perspective/tense sometimes shifts and gets very confusing. There were several times that I had to go back and reread a couple of pages just to understand where everything was going. 
  • Mantel frequently uses the pronoun 'he', which makes things tricky since most all of the characters are male. I learned after awhile that 'he' almost always referred to Cromwell, but getting through the book could be very challenging if one didn't pick up on this. 
  • There are so many characters in the story that it's hard to keep track of them all, especially all of the Thomases. Mantel does provide a little guide in the beginning, but going back and looking through could easily become a quite tedious. 
  • The plot isn't very eventful, nor is there a clear climax. I thought this was an acceptable choice because history doesn't necessarily have a climax, but it would have been much more audience-friendly if there was one; it is made for entertainment, after all. 

I highly recommend this book, but only if you have prior knowledge of Tudor history. I would advise that if you are new to historical fiction, do not pick this one up because it's very complex and boring if you aren't very enthusiastic about history, especially this specific point in time. I have a friend that is also attempting to read this book, and she loves history, but doesn't enjoy this book at all because it's an awful lot to sort through. 

If you are really set on reading it, try picking up another book that is about the same time period to familiarize yourself with the characters and the events. A personal favorite author of mine is Philippa Gregory, who has written several books about Tudor England, but fair warning, her books are much more sensational in the original sense of the world than this one. 

BUT, if you consider yourself quite the Tudor expert and you don't mind details details details, then I'm practically begging telling you, go ahead and get your hands on Wolf Hall. 

1 comment:

  1. I have nominated you for the Liebster award!