Saturday, 26 June 2010

WOLF HALL by Hilary Mantel

This one won the Booker this year. It got quite famous as far as literary novels get famous. The sides of buses carried adverts for it saying 'Stop talking about it and start reading it' which I thought was quite funny. So anyway, I've read it. It's about an assistant of Cardinal Wolsey's, called Thomas Cromwell, who, after Wolsey's fall from grace, takes over as a helper to Henry VIII in his attempts to ditch Katherine for Anne Boleyn.

On the one hand, it was kind of a ye-olde-strong-on-the-plot historical novel; on the other, it was kind of literary. The plot part told how Thomas Cromwell was a blacksmith's son who ran away to fight in wars on the continent. He got all tough and brilliant and spoke a ton of languages and got very close to the king. This was kind of fun front seat of history stuff, it was interesting how they loved to eat thin sliced apples in cinnamon, and how people dropped dead of various diseases left and right. I found it a bit dubious that everyone was supposed to be terrified of our hero, but then he was as written totally sympathetic. But the literary-ish stuff was lovely. Here's a good bit – mid historical drama, it's suddenly: “He stares down into the water, now brown, now clear as the light catches it, but always moving; the fish in its depths, the weeds, the drowned men with bony hands swimming.” It's also kind of a love letter to London, in the way she writes about it.

One thing I found very weird was that it's called WOLF HALL, right, but we never get to freaking Wolf Hall. It's mentioned, but it's not even important. Not even metaphorically. Not so far as I can tell. Maybe I'm missing something.


  1. I always suspected it was called "Wolf Hall" in a purely mercenary attempt to cash in on the vampire/werewolf craze.

    BTW The fellow was Oliver Cromwell's great-uncle or something too, I think.

  2. Dude, that is totally it. You are smart. I however am not so smart. I have only just realised how to read comments on this blog thing. This 21st century is too much for me x

  3. And they visit Wolf Hall at the end - it's Jane Seymour family's house, ominous ...

    Hilary Mantel said that "Wolf Hall" was a perfect description of Henry VIII's court.

    Have just finished the second in the series, Bring Up the Bodies. Mantel is extraordinary, in my (not exactly unique) view.

  4. I didn't even know there was a second! I am going to look for it. That's brilliant

  5. Fantastically well written. Mantel makes it feel like we are always looking over Thomas Cromwell's shoulder.