Customer Review

1,127 of 1,192 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Quality Historical Fiction, October 19, 2009
This review is from: Wolf Hall (Hardcover)
Wolf Hall is 2009's Man Booker Prize winner and was the favourite from the beginning with something like 10 to 11 odds at winning. The Booker judges have a habit of surprising but didn't do so this year.

I'm not an expert on the history from the time of Henry the 8th though it's certainly one of the most heavily mined topics in fiction. I began this book with only a basic knowledge of the history and was not familiar with the protagonist of the story Thomas Cromwell.

The novel has a short preamble from Thomas Cromwell's youth and then traces his rise from a common son of a blacksmith to one of the most powerful men in England. Through Cromwell, we experience Henry, Anne Boleyn, Thomas More, Thomas Wolsey and many, many other characters of the time. The main historical focus of the novel is the events leading to Henry's second marriage and the extreme philosophical and popular debate and passion that it causes.

The author deals with the events in great detail and focuses both on the debate, the reaction of the people and the intricate political wheeling and dealing. Mantel immerses us in the time and explains all sides very thoroughly. While I've mentioned that it's detailed, it doesn't really lag as for a 600+ page hisorical novel, it moves very quickly.

Thomas Cromwell is the star of the novel and through force of will, financial competence, good judgement and political savvy, he rises to power and wealth. He moves from poor child to a man with significant contacts and talent in the mercantile world to top advisor to Lord Chancellor Thomas Wolsey to ultimately Master Secretary to Henry the 8th. He is the backroom dealer and driving force that makes Henry's second marriage possible despite great opposition from the Roman Catholic Church and many others. He is also a trusted advisor to Anne Boleyn.

Throughout the novel, Cromwell is reminded of his humble beginnings and looked down upon by noblemen who wonder how he has been able to rise to such lofty heights.

I liked Wolf Hall but ..... I didn't love it. This is perhaps more a comment on my affinity for historical fiction and 16th century England than anything else. I certainly see why Wolf Hall won the Man Booker and have no particular objection to it. Ultimately, I wasn't emotionally affected by the novel and for me, that is the difference between a good novel and a great novel.

Maybe I'm being petty but Mantel also made choices that annoyed me. I had trouble with distinguishing characters at times and had to refer back to the listing of the characters frequently. There are a number of characters named Thomas, Anne, Mary etc. and she sometimes just used those single name labels to describe them. In a novel with a plethora of characters, this needlessly aggravated me. She also referred to characters sometimes by their names and other times titles. Fore example, sometimes she referred to the Duke of Suffolk as Charles Brandon and other times as Suffolk. Again, in a novel with many, many characters, I had some trouble keeping track of who was saying what. Sometimes when authors are very close to the material and the characters they can forget that the reader is not as familiar as they are. This was a flaw though not a fatal one.

Summary: Good book, well constructed, very detailed, very well researched. I liked it. It did lack emotional impact for me and while I appreciate it, I do not have much affection for it.

I recommend Wolf Hall especially to lovers of historical fiction.
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Tracked by 11 customers

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Showing 1-10 of 69 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Oct 25, 2009 6:13:50 PM PDT
M. Boyd says:
[Customers don't think this post adds to the discussion. Show post anyway. Show all unhelpful posts.]

Posted on Nov 1, 2009 4:06:54 PM PST
[Deleted by Amazon on Nov 3, 2009 8:55:06 AM PST]

Posted on Nov 1, 2009 8:41:18 PM PST
[Deleted by the author on Nov 1, 2009 8:42:14 PM PST]

Posted on Nov 15, 2009 12:05:01 PM PST
I agree. I also had a difficult distinguishing characters because of her use of pronouns instead of characters' names. Not only was it frustrating, but made it harder for me to get into the rhythm of the book because of the necessity of my double-checking the subject of sentence/paragraph.

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 27, 2009 10:12:07 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Nov 27, 2009 10:12:46 AM PST
egreetham says:
[Customers don't think this post adds to the discussion. Show post anyway. Show all unhelpful posts.]

Posted on Nov 28, 2009 12:06:17 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Nov 28, 2009 12:37:01 AM PST
Victoria says:
The difficulty following the characters is understandable. I read A LOT and very diversely - historical fiction; sci-fi/fantansy genre fiction; contemporary fiction; classical fiction; fluff fiction; "old" classical: i.e. The Decameron; Gilgamesh; the works of Chaucer, Milton, the Greek and Roman Literary greats. In addition I've read a ton of non-fiction - encompassing my main areas of interest ranging from Ancient Egypt to the Rise of the Roman Empire to the histories of "Middle Europe" from 1000 C.E. and the British Isles and to Russia from 1600 through the reign of Catherine the Great. I am not a 'scholar snob'; I really enjoy reading in all of this diversity - in practice I am a Painter and Illustrator (waitress, personal assistant - a butcher, baker, candle'mistaker') by schooling and Profession.
To the point - this era and particularly the English are well known during this period , before and after, for seeming to use only 3-4 different forenames for both sexes. In order to really enjoy this type of novel, it would be necessary (or at least very helpful) to have a very strong background of the time period. Jean Plaidy has written mountains of historical fiction that cover the Tudor period (and others). Her books are well written, easy to follow (she deftly guides readers through all the 'names' with ease) - in addition they are historically accurate. If you would like to return to this work and re-read it without the 'name confusion' - I'd recommend Ms. Plaidy's works (these are not the 'best' works in this genre, but they are short, accurate, enjoyable and avoid the "Bodice-Ripper come Mystery Sleuth In Historical Fiction Clothing" which has run so rampant over the past 5-6 years: e.g. Phillipa Gregory, Karen Harper, Kate Emerson et al).
I found M. Boyd's comment to reveal more about the Commentator than the Comment.

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 28, 2009 2:35:53 PM PST
Honestly, my comment on having difficulty following the names was more a point of annoyance than anything. I think Mantel could have made a few adjustments and eliminated the annoyance. I still thought it was a good book.

I also had to refer back to the list of characters a lot when I read One Hundred Years of Solitude mostly because so many characters had the same names from generation to generation. I loved that novel.

So, I wouldn't want to overstate the issue. It minorly takes away form the book.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 14, 2009 9:19:41 PM PST
Mantel writes in the present tense, like many literary authors nowadays. She also uses "he" to refer to Cromwell whenever possible, even when, by strict rules of grammar, it should refer to someone else. I think she does this to emphasize that he is the point-of-view character, that the whole book is about him, that he is never offstage: there is no scene without him except for some anecdotes that he's been given by others and is presented as thinking about. By simply assuming that any "he" meant Cromwell unless there was unavoidable compulsion to think otherwise, I beat the pronoun-reference problem. I have to make a list of characters for any book I read, so that was no more of a problem than it always is for me. Reading on the Kindle, I used the search function for virtually every character's reappearance, and got a review of all her scenes as a pleasant extra.

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 11, 2010 5:10:23 PM PST
Donna H. says:
I agree with James. This is the kind of book that is greatly enhanced by reading on the Kindle. I also referred back, every few pages, to the cast of characters, did searches, and looked up various historical incidents that were alluded to in many of the passages. I know this sounds like a lot of work, but reading on the Kindle made the book that much more interesting and rewarding to read.

Posted on Feb 4, 2010 6:27:05 AM PST
I agree wholeheartedly with R.P. regarding Wolf Hall. Although the book was very detailed and made you feel apart of the era, the manner of keeping the characters separated was very aggravating. Sometimes I didn't know who was talking to whom until two pages on! Sometimes with a name, sometimes with only a title, it was difficult to distinguish between some characters. Over all the novel was worth my reading because I enjoy historical fiction. I don't know if I will try another novel by this author, however.
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