Wolf Hall

Wolf Hall

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, astu...

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Title:Wolf Hall
Author:Hilary Mantel
Rating:
ISBN:0007230206
Edition Language:English
Format Type:Paperback
Number of Pages:653 pages

Wolf Hall Reviews

  • Teresa
    Feb 02, 2010

    The thing to remember when starting this book is that 99% percent of the time the pronoun 'he' refers to Cromwell, even at times when the sentence structure makes it seems like 'he' would be someone else. It took me a short while to realize this, but once I did, I was fine. You are in Cromwell's head; you see everything from his perspective. As he reacts to others' reactions of him (many times, he is bemused to see how he is thought of) another layer of characterization is added.

    This novel is be

    The thing to remember when starting this book is that 99% percent of the time the pronoun 'he' refers to Cromwell, even at times when the sentence structure makes it seems like 'he' would be someone else. It took me a short while to realize this, but once I did, I was fine. You are in Cromwell's head; you see everything from his perspective. As he reacts to others' reactions of him (many times, he is bemused to see how he is thought of) another layer of characterization is added.

    This novel is beautifully written with unique descriptions (I love when authors can pull that uniqueness off -- not easy to do!) sprinkled here and there; Cromwell is fascinating (and drawn sympathetically by Mantel) and even surprisingly charming in his interactions with family members and certain others. (Though that's not to say that he doesn't use some of these others either.) And he's funny! Though all of this is done, oh, so, subtly.

    It's said that historical fiction is as much about the time during which it's written as it is about the time it's set in. And through Mantel's eyes, we see the similarities of the time periods' political intrigue, as messy and incestuous then as it is now. I thought I was done with Tudor historical fiction (I've read so much of it through the years) but this book is different.

    You won't understand the novel's title until later in the book, and I won't explain it here, as I got excited (a rare emotion when reading) seeing the meanings unfold, and I wouldn't want to spoil that for anyone.

    I also got very excited as I read this quote: (page 394) "Suppose within each book there is another book, and within every letter on every page another volume constantly unfolding; but these volumes take no space on the desk. Suppose knowledge could be reduced to a quintessence, held within a picture, a sign, held within a place which is no place. Suppose the human skull were to become capacious, spaces opening inside it, humming chambers like beehives." I felt as if I had found the 'key' to the whole book.

    This is one of those long novels that I loved living with and hated to see end, one of those experiences which causes you not to want to rush off to read something else, because you're still soaking in the one you've just finished.

  • karen
    Mar 22, 2010

    hilary mantel is such a tease. she calls her book

    because she knows i have a crush on jane seymour, and then she just blah blah blahs about thomas cromwell for 500 pages, feeding me only tiny bites of jane. sigh. me and hil have always had a rocky history.i have read four of her books now, and have only really liked one;

    . but i keep trying. this one was for class, but i probably would have read it anyway, because this summer i read

    and really e

    hilary mantel is such a tease. she calls her book

    because she knows i have a crush on jane seymour, and then she just blah blah blahs about thomas cromwell for 500 pages, feeding me only tiny bites of jane. sigh. me and hil have always had a rocky history.i have read four of her books now, and have only really liked one;

    . but i keep trying. this one was for class, but i probably would have read it anyway, because this summer i read

    and really enjoyed a lot of "characters" in his court. but it is so frustrating, reading historical fiction or biographies. this is only my third tudor book (because, yes, i totally read

    ), and the malleability of history and the filters through which authors present these people is terribly inconsistent, depending on their own prejudices. i loved chupuys in the weir book, but here he is so foppish and weird - like a less fuckable david bowie in

    . sometimes mary boleyn is a victim, sometimes she is cold and calculating, sometimes she is just a party girl depending on who is telling me the story. damn apologists. there were sections of writing i loved here, but most of it was flat, to me.i thought the opening was great, and the last 60 pages or so were fairly rollicking, but for some reason much of the middle seemed arid, but peppered with episodes i loved. i am glad that i read it, and a lot of my resistance may have just been my poor fever-riddled brain's inability to concentrate for any reasonable period of time, but i'm not swayed to mantelmania just yet. try try again.

    addition: can someone help me with this, because i am getting conflicting opinions from people i trust equally. please tell me how to pronounce "chupuys". one smart person said it was pronounced "cha-pwah", and another smart person made it rhyme with "pepys". fix this rift for me please.

  • Emily  O
    Dec 14, 2010

    Do you ever wonder about why people choose to read the books they do? Well, I can tell you, I read Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel because it won the Book Prize For Fiction in 2009. You see, The Children's Book by A.S. Byatt was nominated for the Booker in 2009, but did not win. Curious to see what book could beat one of my favorite books of all time, I looked up Wolf Hall. And what do you know, it's another piece of historical fiction set in England and written by a woman. This could be interesting!

    Do you ever wonder about why people choose to read the books they do? Well, I can tell you, I read Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel because it won the Book Prize For Fiction in 2009. You see, The Children's Book by A.S. Byatt was nominated for the Booker in 2009, but did not win. Curious to see what book could beat one of my favorite books of all time, I looked up Wolf Hall. And what do you know, it's another piece of historical fiction set in England and written by a woman. This could be interesting! I was intrigued, so I picked it up from the bookstore, determined to see if it was really better than The Children's Book.

    Well, dear readers, I am sorry to say that it was not. I had such hopes for this book. It is set during the time of King Henry VIII, whom we all know was an interesting character in English history. The main character and narrator of the book is Thomas Cromwell, about whom there has been much speculation. Other main characters include Anne Boleyn, Thomas More, and Queen Katherine. I went into this book expecting the best, but I was sorely let down on every front. Wolf Hall was an exercise in disappointment.

    First of all, I have to say that the writing was of a fine literary quality. I have no doubts that Hilary Mantel has a strong grasp of the English language, which is not something I can say about some authors I've read. Her only stylistic flaw was the tendency to put little artsy cliffhangers at the end of each section. I got the feeling that she didn't want to end a section without putting something that sounded either meaningful, artistic, or foreboding. While that can be a good technique when used sparingly, it came off feeling very contrived to me, like she was trying a little too hard. By the time I got to the middle of the book, which is a good 600 pages long, I was over it.

    The main problem with this book was its lack of both character development and plot. First, the plot. I got to the end of the book not really sure what the point was. Quite frankly, I was expecting there to be more pages, because I didn't feel like the book had gone anywhere or come to any kind of conclusion yet. That is not a feeling I like. There was no climax, no conclusive event, nothing that tied together all the disparate happenings throughout the book. I felt like I was reading a series of events rather than a novel.

    That would have been fine with me, had the characters made up for it. I don't need a plot-driven book if there is enough character development to make it character-driven. Sadly, this book fails on all fronts when it comes to characters. Our narrator, Thomas Cromwell, is so nebulous that he almost doesn't have a character to develop. His defining traits consist of a willingness to please the people he works for, a gift for business and diplomacy, and a tendency to treat his underlings well. That's what we start with at the beginning of the book, and that's what we're left with at the end. I had trouble believing he had aged at all throughout the course of the novel simply because he changed so little. Sadly, all the characters in the book are relatively similar to him, if not in character traits, than in voice. Though they are described as being very different, I had trouble distinguishing between characters. While their political leanings may have been different, there was hardly a difference between the voices of Thomas More, Anne Boleyn, or any other character. Mantel should take note that dialogue without tags or quotation marks (which is a device I actually like when used correctly) only works if the characters are distinct enough not to need them. Sadly, this was not the case in Wolf Hall.

    There were a few things I liked about this book. Like I said, the writing itself was not bad, which is always a positive thing. I enjoyed that Mantel gave a fresh perspective on some very tired historical figures. I can't tell you how many saintly depictions of Thomas More I've read in my day, so it was nice to see him in a different (read: heartless and heretic-burning) light. Still, this book was mostly a let-down. It wasn't terrible enough for me to hate it, but rather squarely mediocre in every category. In my opinion, Wolf Hall should not have beat The Children's Book for the Booker prize, and I do not recommend it.

    Rating: 3

    No character development, very little plot, mediocre overall. Not recommended.

  • Wendy
    Jan 22, 2011

    Have you ever been with a group of people when someone tells a joke and the rest of the group thinks it's hilarious but you just don't get it?

    was that way for me. So many people think it's brilliant while I couldn't maintain enough interest to finish it.

    I love historical fiction, especially from this time period, so I expected to really like this one. I thought that telling the story of Henry VIII from the viewpoint of Cromwell was an interesting twist and I looked forward to learning

    Have you ever been with a group of people when someone tells a joke and the rest of the group thinks it's hilarious but you just don't get it?

    was that way for me. So many people think it's brilliant while I couldn't maintain enough interest to finish it.

    I love historical fiction, especially from this time period, so I expected to really like this one. I thought that telling the story of Henry VIII from the viewpoint of Cromwell was an interesting twist and I looked forward to learning more about him. So what was the problem?

    Well, for starters, the writing style took turns irritating and confusing me. Quotation marks are apparently optional, making it hard to figure out that you're reading dialogue until you get to the "he said". Speaking of which, the author relies heavily on the pronoun "he" and since there were frequently at least 2 men in each scene, this reader was often unsure which he was the right he. As the men in scene multiplied, so did the confusion. It took so much effort to figure out who was who and who said what and what was going on that it stopped being entertaining or thought-provoking and just became work.

    And did I mention the colon? The poor, lonesome, and oft-ignored colon finally has his time in the spotlight in this novel. Upgraded from lonely punctuation understudy, the colon has a lead role here. The author uses colons so frequently and somewhat oddly that I would recommend a complete colonectomy. Here's an example from one paragraph: (Aargh! A colon! It must be contagious.)

    "But by the time he reaches Dover the big gash on his scalp has closed, and the tender parts inside, he trusts, have mended themselves: kidneys, lungs, and heart." "Morgan Williams will have done an inventory of him before he left: teeth (miraculously) still in his head, and two eyes, miraculously seeing. Two arms, two legs: what more do you want?"

    Overall, the book felt like it was trying too hard to be literary. Some of the prose was lovely, but there were enough little stylistic choices that annoyed me to put me off. After reading numerous reviews, even from people who loved the book, that said that most of the characters remained distant throughout and that they didn't learn anything more about Cromwell after reading 500+ pages, that was enough for me. Sadly, life's too short and my TBR pile's too big. I had to abandon this one.

  • Riku Sayuj
    Dec 01, 2011

    I treat this novel as a qualified failure of an experiment (qualified since I am open to the possibility that the failure was mine) and I sincerely wish that Mantel does not win the Booker this year - I just cannot bring myself to spend anymore time with her lifeless narrator.

    More than anything else Wolf Hall seemed to me to be a literary experiment - on how closely a woman can get into a man's mind, and as far as I am concerned, a qualified failure. I could never truly feel that the narration w

    I treat this novel as a qualified failure of an experiment (qualified since I am open to the possibility that the failure was mine) and I sincerely wish that Mantel does not win the Booker this year - I just cannot bring myself to spend anymore time with her lifeless narrator.

    More than anything else Wolf Hall seemed to me to be a literary experiment - on how closely a woman can get into a man's mind, and as far as I am concerned, a qualified failure. I could never truly feel that the narration was being executed by a male voice, it was as if a woman narrator residing inside a captive male character was telling the story and every time a ‘he’ or 'his' comes along, it resulted in a string of confused stumblings over adjectives before I remembered again (many times) that it is of himself that the narrator is talking about. Eventually I came to understand the reason for this jarring feeling - it was not because I was not reading thoroughly enough, it was because I couldn't think of the narrator as a ‘he’ - it just didn't cut it, especially when he/she informed me with wonder of how men embrace other men.

    I wish Mary Boleyn had been the narrator, she was the only 'real' person in this narrative peopled by artificial characters, only she had an authentic voice to me and I can't help but feel that she was the character that Mantel most identified with - the novel came alive and took such vibrancy every time Mary entered the narrator's field of vision, like a deprived woman lighting up at the sight of a beautiful mirror to finally examine herself!

    As I said, I am open to the fact that my bad experience was due to a failure of imagination on my part, so I hope fans of this book will take pity on my deprived pleasure and be gentle in their recriminations.

    Come to think of it I really cannot think of any book I have read in which a novelist tries to get so intimate with the mind of a narrator of the opposite sex. So maybe my problem was not a failure of imagination but a poverty of literary experience as I haven't encountered such an effort before; maybe I need to read some Hardy.

    I also believe that if there were less 'Thomas's in the story, I could have still come out the better in this expedition. So there.

  • Lewis Weinstein
    Jan 07, 2012

    I just started Wolf Hall, and I find the relentless use of "he" to be extremely irritating. In the first several chapters, there are dozens of instances where it is not clear who is speaking. Every once in a while, as if recognizing the problem she has created, Mantel uses the phrase "he, Cromwell." Why not just say Cromwell?

    Unless there is some good reason which I can't imagine, this sort of obfuscation is just lazy writing which disrespects the reader. May I re-think that, based on a comment b

    I just started Wolf Hall, and I find the relentless use of "he" to be extremely irritating. In the first several chapters, there are dozens of instances where it is not clear who is speaking. Every once in a while, as if recognizing the problem she has created, Mantel uses the phrase "he, Cromwell." Why not just say Cromwell?

    Unless there is some good reason which I can't imagine, this sort of obfuscation is just lazy writing which disrespects the reader. May I re-think that, based on a comment by another reader. It's not lazy writing. It's very purposeful. And very distracting.

    ... later ...

    I just read some of the amazon reviews. There are actually quite a few readers who found the "he" business as disconcerting as I did, and who expressed their displeasure in rather strong terms, along with many *-star ratings. However, many others really liked the book, as do many Goodreads readers, so it must not bother them as it does me.

    Another Goodreads reader suggested that the use of "he" all the time created a closer intimacy with Cromwell. Perhaps, but I see it differently. If you want to create intimacy, use the first person. Then it is clear that everything is seen and felt by the single protagonist, and the reader can share that character's viewpoint, thoughts and feelings. What Mantel has done is not to bring us close to Cromwell, but to inject herself, the author, between the reader and the prime character. She does this on practically every page and I find it jarring every time it happens.

    Before my final negative notes, let me say that Mantel clearly has an exquisite command of the language. Even in the few chapters I read, her elegant choice of words often made me reflect and smile. She can paint a picture when describing a character or a setting that is truly wonderful. And, when she chooses to do so, she writes a vivid scene that has power and emotion.

    Such continuity of story, however, is the exception rather than the rule. The constant switching of time and place, often without the merest hint of transition, made the reading much more difficult than it had to be. Just a word here or there would have made a huge difference.

    Finally, the breezy style in which much of the book is written is entertaining, as many have noted and I agree, but it had the effect of making me wonder if Mantel was as true to the history as I think a historical fiction should be. Of course the dialogue and many of the personal incidents are made up, but does the author, when portraying actual events, present them accurately? I think such concern for the truth is an obligation of an author when writing about historical characters and events. Mantel left me unsure.

    I think I've had enough of Wolf Hall, and perhaps other Goodreads readers have had enough of my criticism of what is surely a popular book. I don't usually write negative opinions, but this book just seemed to drag them out of me. I hope I have not offended anyone.

  • Paul Bryant
    Jun 04, 2012

    For the first 100 pages I was like a Monkees song, you know the one -

    [Cue cute organ/guitar intro]

    I thought great historical novels about the 16th century were only true in fairy tales

    Meant for someone else but not for me

    Mmm, historical novelists were out to get me

    That's the way it seemed

    Disappointment haunted all my dreams

    But then some strange things began

    For the first 100 pages I was like a Monkees song, you know the one -

    [Cue cute organ/guitar intro]

    I thought great historical novels about the 16th century were only true in fairy tales

    Meant for someone else but not for me

    Mmm, historical novelists were out to get me

    That's the way it seemed

    Disappointment haunted all my dreams

    But then some strange things began to percolate through to my sluggish oily consciousness, beetling my brows and causing pushed out bottom lip expressions to become prominent. The style is great, all that detail, every surface covered, you never see the props manager or the mike boom, the brocades and all the grey velvet actually seem

    (what budget did this novel get?) but.

    But.

    I noticed that although we crawl along with Thomas Cromwell inch by inch, hour by hour, Hilary Mantel never, never, never mentions how her hero

    about anything, never mentions his thoughts, his worries, his concerns, his interior. It’s all surface. What he said, his gestures, the way he looked, what he knew, what he ate, how he knew how to cook it, who he yelled at, who he was kind to (children and animals, aah)- this is what we get ; what he thought he was up to or could or couldn’t achieve, his fears, who he hated, all that, has to be inferred; this is the poster novel for show don’t tell; this shows everything, almost, and tells nothing.

    That that is a deliberately chosen technique is clear; and you must appreciate if you cannot celebrate or accept if you cannot appreciate. But if you can’t get on board with it this novel is going to drive you into the arms of a therapist.

    Dr Rayner : So what’s been happening this week?

    Reader of Wolf Hall : Well, it’s er er Thomas.

    Dr Rayner (professionally covering up his increasing irritation) : Ah, Thomas. Again.

    ROWH : He… he just never tells me anything. I have to guess, all the time.

    Dr Rayner : Ah ha, um. Yes…

    ROWH : I feel so close to him, and yet…

    Dr Rayner : And yet so distant.

    ROWH : Ah, you know, you know!

    Dr Rayner’s eyes dart about, as if seeking a sympathetic face. But there is none.

    There’s more. There’s a brilliant JG Ballard short story called

    . A guy potters around in his beautiful garden and in the mid-distance he can see an enormous hostile army approaching across the landscape. It seems to be in slow motion. Every day it’s a little nearer. Neither he nor his wife has any thoughts of moving away. They look after the exquisite flowers, they repot plants, they discuss borders. It’s a great metaphor. Wolf Hall is in slow motion. There’s the painfully attenuated downfall of Cardinal Wolsey. Then there’s the even more excruciatingly drawn out overarching issue of the Great Matter of the King’s Divorce, or Annulment, whatever. Off with the Katherine and on with the Anne.

    So here’s a funny thing. After the great Cardinal Wolsey (and he is a great character, I loved him) - after he’s dead and gone, (none of this is plot spoiler, this is history! – it’s quite a trick to write a long story which everyone knows and still have them queuing round the block) I was scratching my head and thinking that although I’d been hearing so much of and about Cardinal Wolsey (he is the Penn to Thomas Cromwell’s Teller) in the months days hours minutes seconds of his huge demise I still couldn’t figure out exactly why - why - why King Henry turned on him in such fury. A quick Wikipedia gave me this:

    Whoah. Unless I fell asleep during the crucial bit, that is not in the book. Don’t you think it should be? Might help explain things a bit better? How strange of Hilary.

    So if Hilary Mantel wrote a novel about the Kennedy assassination you would have got lots of detailed scenes of life at the court of the Kennedys, the domestic problems of the Oswalds, their life in Russia, what the crowds were saying on the Dealey Plaza, but when the motorcade appeared she would cut immediately to the autopsy and the comments of the surgeons and their family situations. We would get a few scenes with Jack Ruby and his pals, but next thing you know he’d be under arrest. Huh, what happened?

    It’s like being on the inside, but

    What are we taught about drama? Exposition, complication, resolution (comedy); exposition, conflict, catastrophe (tragedy). What does Hilary do? Throws the rules away. Hilary, and this goes double for A Place of Greater Safety, her vast novel about the French Revolution, goes for : exposition, complication, more exposition, more and more exposition, more complication. Where’s the conflict? Off stage. Is this a problem? It is going to be, for some people. Quentin Tarantino fans, players of Thrill Kill and Mortal Kombat, you know, impatient types.

    But historical novelists, especially those like Hilary who embroider their worlds so lavishly, and set the right birds in each tree at the right angle, and the weeds underfoot, and the stench of the straw in the barn, and the wounds of a knife fight as well as each bauble, buckle, bead, biggins and bodice I think do us a grand service, re-plugging us back into the people who we were, making it possible to think that life did indeed go on in almost recognisable forms 500 years ago. It’s like claiming these lives back, scraping off the encrustings of ignorance and they don’t look like zombies or puppets.

    Some literature fans tend to get their sneery faces on and call historical fiction middlebrow. They do! Although I know what they mean, there are brows (brows = class), there are three main classes and they each have a brow, it’s straightforward enough. What are Darconville’s Cat, Wittgenstein’s Mistress, The Pale King, Invisible Cities, Ulysses, Mrs Dalloway and Life : A User’s Guide? Highbrow – a clue is in the fact that none of them can tell a story worth a damn but the things they do with language constitute a legal high. So then, lowbrow must be the mindless genre churn you get in the lovely world of – er - Romance, for instance – they have titles like Come Away with Me, This Man, Dark Soul, Beautiful Disaster. Probably that sounds insulting to Romance fans but hey, come on, you know this stuff is popcorn and not haute cuisine, right? You ain’t kidding yourselves are you? And there’s all kinds of interesting authors who rescued formerly lowbrow genres and made them into middlebrow literature – Hammett and Chandler for detective stories, McMurtry for Westerns, Ballard and a zillion others for science fiction (which was originally considered to be as wretched as the other low genres)… but I am wandering from the subject which is – everything that’s not high or low is in the middle ( that’s in the Bible, Habbakuk 10:4). Therefore Hilary Mantel is middlebrow.

    Okay, so what, we can’t dine on foi gras all the livelong day, but if this is middle it’s somewhere near the top of the middle bangin’ on the ceiling, and eventually, who cares about these distinctions.

    Yeah, you can think that this was some egotistical tyrannical English king thinking with his royal member and stamping on the floor until he got what he wanted even if that meant excommunication and the sundering of the Church, but actually - he wanted an heir – a son – because of the succession, because if the succession wasn’t clear and undisputed, there would be a certain return of the fratricidal civil war which had gone on for 50 years prior to Henry’s father’s victory – so it wasn’t, in fact, a trivial matter.

    Cromwell is faced with a recalcitrant noble who’s making a terrible fuss about his ancient rights and privileges.

    and

    This novel took me so many hours to read but you know I don’t want them back, Hilary Mantel can keep them.

  • Jeffrey Keeten
    Jun 23, 2014

    Thomas Cromwell was first and foremost a thinker. The myth that we only use about 10% of our brains has been debunked in recent years, but I do think we can accurately say that for some of us our brain works more efficiently. I think if we were to sit in a very quiet room with Thomas Cromwell we might actually be able to hear the humming of his mind like the circuitry of a super computer. Henry the Eighth

    Sorry I can’t ever seem to say or write his name without that song popping into my head. Let’s try this again.

    Henry the Eighth was not supposed to be king. The 16th century was supposed to be the return of the Age of Camelot when his older brother, Arthur, claimed his birthright and became king of England. It was Arthur that had been tutored and trained to be king. Henry would have been destined for the church if not for the fickleness of fate that left his brother dead six months before his sixteenth birthday. Henry the Eighth rules like a second son that was always second best. He is impetuous, bombastic, corpulent, and prone to fits of fury. He is not a stupid man and always surrounded himself with intelligent men, disciplined men, who could provide him with wise counsel. He did not always take their advice, but he did always give them a chance to make a case.

    Henry preferred advisers named Thomas.

    Thomas Wolsey

    Thomas More

    Thomas Cromwell

    Cromwell worked for Thomas Wolsey and when the cardinal fell out of favor it could have been the end for Cromwell’s hopes as well. Cromwell is a lot of things, a complicated man, a sometimes hard man, but ultimately he is a survivor. It is so interesting that Hilary Mantel decided to paint a more sympathetic picture of him than what I’d previously thought him to be. He understood money and that true power does not reside with the man on the throne.

    I first met Thomas More through his book Utopia in a class in college. The Praise of Folly by Erasmus was also required reading for the same class. I thought both books were fantastic because to truly understand the writings of these two important writers one must explore the history behind the books. So I wanted to love More, but as I learned more about him the title of his book became more and more an inappropriate extension of the man. His view of how the real world should work was not the Utopia he persuaded me could exist. He was opposed to the Protestant Reformation. He, with great fervor, began to hunt down anyone connected to the Reformation and interrogate, torture and burn them. He didn’t keep his distance from it. He was frequently down in the stench and the squalor of the dungeons watching his prisoners being broken on the rack. The flames of burning heretics danced in his eyes. He may have taken too much pleasure in his work.

    My theory is anyone who wears a hairshirt all the time and scourges themselves for evening entertainment is not someone I want making decisions about my life. More may have been brilliant, but those beautiful marbles in his head were scrambled.

    When the King, in his pursuit of Anne Boleyn, decides that the only way he is going to free himself from the albatross from Aragon, Catherine, is to break with the Roman Catholic Church. This puts the King in direct conflict with one of his most trusted advisers the before mentioned Thomas More. Sir Thomas cannot break with his beliefs. When he is asked to sign an oath supporting the King he refuses. He certainly had a martyr complex. In fact Cromwell in a last ditch effort to try and save More’s life points out his hubris in thinking of himself as a Christ figure. It was to no avail.

    I do believe that Cromwell feels an uneasiness about the fates of the powerful men who came before him. He is always trying to hedge his bets, loaning money at ridiculous low interests to the aristocrats, soothing the relationship between Anne and her sister Mary (Henry’s current favorite bed warmer as he waits for Anne to pop open her corset.), taking care of embarrassing circumstances for other people, forming alliances with the enemies of his friends, and being kind to Henry’s only surviving child (Mary) with Catherine. He is always trying to anticipate the future. He worked to soften the blows to his enemies believing that someday they would be potential allies. He took in orphans, not just from his family, but even from people unconnected to him. He assessed their best aspects and put them with tutors so they would be useful to him in the future. He understands people and knows how to manipulate them and encourage them at the same time.

    He is but a man and there is no time when that is more evident than when his daughter Grace dies.

    The sweating sickness took his wife and both his daughters leaving only him and his son Gregory alive. Maybe those deaths is why he felt so compelled to fill his house with children. It didn’t have to be his children. He thought all children were salvageable, moldable, if encouraged to work at being better at what they were best at.

    Cromwell grew up the son of a blacksmith. His father beat him so severely, in fact the book opens with a scene that showed the impassioned brutality that his father was capable of, that Cromwell leaves to join the army and seek his fortune abroad. He taught himself to read. He was always working his mind like a muscle making it stronger with every book he read. With every moment he spent studying the workings of economics, politics, and psychology (he didn’t know that was what it was called.) he was giving himself the means to make better decisions, to offer better advice, to hone his cunning.

    He was truly a self made man who by sheer audacity and brilliance made it to the pinnacles of power. When he becomes sick though and is at his most vulnerable the fears of a child creep into his mind.

    Little is known about the early life of Thomas Cromwell. He would be pleased to know that. He was much more interested in knowing everything about everyone and careful about letting others know anything about him. He was a long game thinker. Something he does one day may not make sense to those around him until much later when the dominoes fall a new direction. Mantel will clothe him, put flesh on his bones, share his innermost thoughts, and show you a man capable of being ruthless, but just as likely to be compassionate. Though Henry was particularly fascinated with lopping off heads Cromwell knew that ultimately as you eliminate one enemy you only create more. If possible it is much smarter to blackmail, confuse, or convince an arch enemy, maybe not to be friends that would be expecting too much, but at least to become a passive challenger.

    There are a lot of Thomas’s in this book and at times it can seem confusing, but the rule of thumb is if you are not clear about who is speaking or who is sharing their inner thoughts that would be Thomas Cromwell.

    Winner of the Man Booker Prize in 2009 and highly recommended by this dedicated reader.

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  • Will Byrnes
    Mar 18, 2015

    Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown…but really, crown-wearers seem

    Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown…but really, crown-wearers seem to have little difficulty with fabrication. Do they mean lie, as in lying down? I mean I would take it off before going to bed. It might get pretty uncomfortable trying to sleep with that thing still on. Wouldn’t it be more accurate to say uneasy “sits the head that wears the crown,” although that creates in my tiny mind an image of Mister Potato head, with legs and feet. You know you want to see that, so go ahead. I’ll wait.

    How about uneasy

    the head… , but, oh, see Mr Potato head referred above. So I guess we will leave that one alone, as, clearly, it could be worse. In any case, as uneasy as that head might be, it is clearly more dangerous to anyone who has anything at all to do with the head that has the crown on it. Chopped tops are practically bounding down the streets like bulls in Pamplona. Of course there is the attraction of the power that emanates from the golden circlet. It seems to radiate a glow and a hum that attract the dishonest, the rapacious, seducers, flatterers, scoundrels and hypocrites in far greater numbers than the sort of person

    was looking for, and many of them make moth-like

    as they drift in a bit too close.

    One struggles to come up with a contemporary point of reference to help us grasp who Cromwell was. I suppose one might consider Thomas Cromwell to be a royal bug-zapper. There are other ways to see him of course. He was one of the greatest political fixers of all time. Think Olivia Pope as, say, Chief of Staff to the President. But whereas the fictional Olivia occasionally manifests the odd scruple, the real-world Thomas appears to have manifested fewer. In a similar vein, I suppose we might see him a consigliere to H8’s Don Corleone, or maybe Tony Soprano. Maybe Kissinger or Pat Moynihan to Nixon?

    and

    - from the Guardian

    He is considered to be one of the most ruthless human beings of his time, in seeing that the king’s word was made flesh. Already married, but wifey does not pop out a male heir? What’s a king to do? Why, twist, turn, beg, borrow, steal, threaten, intimidate, and murder until you get your way. Spoiled children with their own states are fond of such behavior. Of course, to a large extent, one must engage in these forms of feces flinging and head-lopping at one remove, as kings are too proud to be seen with their hands so filled, whether with their own droppings or axe handles. Thus the presence of people like Thomas Cromwell. Thank you, your majesty, I’ll take that now.

    Since the Catholic Church was all that stood in the way of Henry VIII getting what he wanted, H8 sought to remove it. Seizing the church’s real estate and other holdings would be a nice bonus. Selling off the stolen bits would help pay for the ever-popular urge to go to war with France. And setting up his non-ecclesiastical self as the head of his own sort-of Catholic Church, the Anglican Church, meant that, in addition to visiting horrors on the RC he would be claiming even more divine rights. And this lunatic convinces himself that God wanted this. A bit self-serving, no? Sheesh!

    - from Wikimedia -- and

    - BBC

    So, you would expect that in Hilary Mantel’s rollicking tale of Tudor England, Cromwell would be painted in rather dark shades. The author offers something other. Hogwarts DA Masters notwithstanding, the darkest of the dark arts is the power of manipulation. The proper words tossed near the proper ear can wreak devastation no less awful than an armored division. Cromwell is portrayed as a practitioner of 16th century RealPolitik, someone who uses his rapier wit, his power, his capacity for manipulation, his wide knowledge of the world, and his deep intelligence to serve his king. Is he in it mostly for himself? Maybe. Probably, but he is shown in small bites, talking to this one, planting spies, chatting with that one, nuancing everyone within reach to see things his way, the king’s way, and he sees that more direct action is taken when words alone will not do.

    Cromwell, both the real one and his fictitious doppelganger, is a pretty interesting guy, rising from modest (and, if Mantel does not mislead, abusive) origins, dashing off to soldier for hire, becoming expert in international trade of various sorts, making very useful friends and connections along the way, becoming a lawyer, and with his contact list and rep for discretion, rising as far as a low-born can rise in Tudor England. I am sure that, had he shown an inclination towards the culinary arts, he might have been considered a Man for All Seasonings. (sorry)

    He is our window on the Tudor era. Regardless of the accuracy of the portrayal, as a literary device, Cromwell is ideally placed to allow us a look into many of the machinations of the era. Questionable prophetess, the

    , making life uncomfortable for a wandering king? Cromwell is there. Both to hear her speak and see her burned. Anne Boleyn plotting to get around the Church’s refusal to annul H8’s marriage? Yep, TC is right in the middle. The population being laid waste by a plague sweating disease? He loses family. Cromwell was a real-life

    of the era, with a hand in every historical pie.

    What motivates Thomas Cromwell? He moves through the novel like an avatar of the author, a witness to the things the author wants us so know, but lacking much of a personality himself. The delightfully acerbic wit he manifests is hardly unique to him in this telling. One might point to his ambition, and there are certain decisions he makes or directions he takes that offer some guidance, but I never really got much of a feel for what really makes Thomas tick. Is Thomas Cromwell Horatio Alger, an exemplar of hard work, smarts and ambition paying off in the end? Is he a model for the notion that power corrupts? Does he really have morals, or merely goals? Is he a

    or a technocrat? In a recent theatrical production, the writers took this problem in hand and decided to anchor their production on Cromwell’s quest for vengeance on all those who had seen to the toppling of his mentor and father figure, the larger-than-life Wolsey. (I absolutely see Sidney Greenstreet in my tiny mind as Wolsey) That makes a lot of sense, lending a core of cohesion to a sequence of loose scenes, a lot of this-happens-and-then-that.

    by unknown and

    in the role

    Well, Thomas is only one element here, albeit the largest. It is the era that Mantel brings to life. It was a time of big change. H8 may be established in our 21st century minds as a solidly placed monarch, but the security of his line was very much in question, thus the freaking out about producing a male heir. The Protestant Reformation was underway and the world was in flux. Plagues…um…plagued Europe and the enlightenment was far in the future.

    While this look at the Tudor era is gruesome, enlightening and fun, it also shines a light, as good historical fiction does, on contemporary concerns. Torture? Check. Religious extremism? Check. TC is seen by at least one writer as a Tudor version of ISIS. Privacy concerns? Check. Government abuse of authority? Check. The one percent riding roughshod over the rest of us? Check. National wars for private purposes? Check. Issues of separation of church and state? Check. So, for those of you who have not yet taken on this large novel, and it’s younger siblings, one born, the other gestating, keep an eye out for how the Tudor era contains many of the same conflicts we endure today. Of course one might despair by doing this. Really? We have learned nothing in five hundred years? But one might also see some universality in the human condition, across time and space.

    There are many, many characters in

    . Mantel has included a nice list of them at the front of the book. I found I needed to refer to it frequently. It can be a bit daunting to keep track of what is going on, or to discern who is talking to whom, particularly when so many of the names are used by multiple characters. Most particularly, there are more Toms here than at a convention of male cats held in a turkey farm, enough Johns to construct a considerable public lavatory, as well as herds of Harries and Henries, Annes, Katherines and Marys, and probably a few more household names that repeat uncomfortably often. You will be needing that chart. That said, realizing that TC is the author’s and thus the readers’ eyes on pretty much everything helps.

    There is a very different take here on Thomas More than the one we are accustomed to.

    presented More as a moralist, one who stuck by his principles in opposing H8’s desire to be rid of wife #1 in favor of wife #2. In this version we are shown a Thomas More who is much more an Ayatollah than a serene wise man, as much a political player as a man of the cloth. He happily sends to the torturer and the executioner those who oppose his views. Mantel shows a bit of sympathy for H8 trying to dismantle an organization that includes such dark prigs.

    by Holbein and

    in the role

    The novel does not tie up neatly. There are two more volumes after all, and those who remember their history, or who, like me, are memory-challenged and need to look such things up, know how it ends, anyway. It is the journey through this often dark age that is the treat. The wit alone would have been enough for me. The feel for the time adds depth.

    The novel and it’s younger sib have become the source material for both a BBC miniseries and stage productions in Britain and the USA, and seems to be gathering cultural strength and presence as more branches extend from the Wolf Hall tree. Can the graphic novel and the Barbie Anne Boleyn be far behind? The series from the Beeb has already aired on the east side of the pond, and is scheduled to begin on Easter, April 5, here in the states.

    In short, for a book with a considerable page count, and covering thirty five years of English and European history, the results of most of which we already know,

    is an engrossing read, rich with all-world-large personalities, bristling with sharply barbed wit and intelligence, richly appointed with intrigue and betrayal, red with blood, and great fun to read. There are sections that sag a bit, but keep on, there will be another scene just around the bend that will make you smile and sometimes even laugh out loud. And there are passages that will transport you with their beauty and insight.

    BTW, the title,

    refers to the residence of the Seymours (the family serving up one of theirs to be counted among the many wives) and is a takeoff on a Latin saying,

    , or ‘man is a wolf to man.’ He is indeed, and what big teeth he has.

    Review posted – 4/3/15

    Publication date – 4/30/2009

    =============================

    Links to the author’s

    ,

    ,

    and

    pages

    A nice article from the Telegraph about the

    Fab item by Mantel in the NY Review of Books on

    Interview with

    , who plays TC in the BBC production.

    I included a link in the body of the review, but in case you missed it Dominic Selwood of the Telegraph has a dark view of TC -

    Martin Kettle of the Guardian has a more positive take -

    An article from the NY Times about the upcoming

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  • Ana
    Jan 21, 2016

    BR with Hayat

    2.5 Stars

    These Tudor memes are amazing. They're worthy of losing your head over.

    Dear oh dear where do I begin... I've always been fascinated by the Tudor Dynasty, especially Queen Elizabeth I. And since I'm obsessed with Anne Boleyn, I thought this would be a perfect book for me. It's well-written... but sadly far from perfect.

    Reading this book was no easy task. Wolf Hall isn't terribly difficult to understand, as some claim. The problem lies with the main character. I have n

    BR with Hayat

    2.5 Stars

    These Tudor memes are amazing. They're worthy of losing your head over.

    Dear oh dear where do I begin... I've always been fascinated by the Tudor Dynasty, especially Queen Elizabeth I. And since I'm obsessed with Anne Boleyn, I thought this would be a perfect book for me. It's well-written... but sadly far from perfect.

    Reading this book was no easy task. Wolf Hall isn't terribly difficult to understand, as some claim. The problem lies with the main character. I have no sympathy for Mr. Cromwell. If I don't like the main character from the start, I lose interest quickly. I was not pleased with how Anne was portrayed (my other main complaint about the book). I don't like the way the author handled her character one bit.

    I must collect my thoughts. But for now, I sit here... confused. Confused and gloomy.

    (I've been waiting for an excuse to post a Benicio Del Toro gif)

    Full review to come.