73 of 81 people found the following review helpful
This review is from: Wolf Hall (Paperback)
He reads the book which his friend lends him, even though he detests pieces written in the present tense. Writing in the present tense is a pretentious gimmick that almost makes him give up the book, but soon enough the story holds its sway, so he reads on, in spite of the writing. He hopes by the tots of St Agnes that he is not infected by the affected, somewhat confused, writing style. English tenses are beautiful.
It happens that he had picked up a DVD of A Man For All Seasons not long before, in which Thomas More the hero is undone by Thomas Cromwell the villain. Wolf Hall apparently redresses the blackening of Cromwell. Colin Burrow's review in the London Review of Books calls Wolf Hall alternative history: well put.
The novel brings alive the tastes and concepts of 16th century England. In contemporary America, a blacksmith's son who worked his way to the very pinnacle of power would be admired, but the contemporary peers never forgive him for his blood.
He is not a great fan of thou art and thou shalt, so he is just as happy that the book is written in modern English. A few sentences are a bit too modern, such as `verbal instruction'. But that is not a serious flaw. More serious is when he reads that Cromwell stands up for Wolsey as Henry VIII and More bring him down and he goes north to York while he brings 44 charges against him and he defends him and he is so confused he can no longer figure out who the heck `he' is.
Mantel would do well to heed the advice in Strunk and White: "Be obscure clearly! Be wild of tongue in a way we can understand!" Consider this sentence: "The evening before Fisher is to die, he visits More." By any logic, this would mean that Fisher visits More, but surprise, surprise, Cromwell visits More while Fisher stays locked up. An author's duty is to write sentences which can be understood; if the reader has to backtrack to straighten out an unclear construction, that is shoddy workmanship.
He suspects that Wolf Hall is not the author's chosen title, for it has very little relevance to the story within these covers. Perhaps the author's title is London Smoke or Tudor Rain and the publisher wants something more dramatic, and wolves are dramatic. But for relevance to the story, the novel would be more aptly titled Anne's Belly.
Spoiler alert: from the length of the book, he guesses it ends with Cromwell's execution after the execution of Anne Boleyn, but it ends with More's execution. Although the story fascinates, the book drags and droops from time to time, and perhaps could be handled more economically. Perhaps a sequel is in the making. Certainly the executions of Boleyn and Cromwell are worth a rousing novel. Fine, but he hopes Mantel remembers the elegance of the tenses of the English language. And tell us clearly who `he' is!
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Showing 1-7 of 7 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Apr 27, 2010 9:08:14 PM PDT
Adrienne Tyne says:
Your review is very funny. I agree that it's hard to follow that weird pronoun thing she's doing. Apparently she does it only in this book. I haven't read any of her other books, but the few reviews I've read of those others don't mention pronoun confusion. Anyway, like you, I did not appreciate having to back up all the time to try to figure out who was being discussed. However, after awhile I decided she was doing a stylistic thing. She doesn't want to say "Cromwell" all the time. In fact, it seems she hardly ever wants to use the name of her main character. I decided that might possibly be because we all have a certain picture of him already (as you pointed out by alluding to "Man For All Seasons"). So she took the name away to give us a chance to see him in a new way. Maybe I'm giving her too much credit? Anyway,readers should simply assume that every "he" is the old devil himself, unless it's proven by the action that follows that "he" is actually someone else. It's easier that way.
In reply to an earlier post on Apr 27, 2010 9:36:34 PM PDT
G. B. Talovich says:
Thanks. I wish that before I began reading I had known that "he" is the old devil himself unless proven otherwise.
Posted on Jul 28, 2010 12:10:24 PM PDT
M. Smith says:
Posted on Jan 25, 2011 12:44:09 PM PST
Jennifer Wilson says:
Bahahahaha - SHE (ME) totally agrees! Indeed, there are FAR too many pronouns used in this book. I like to read about Tudor England but found Ms. Mantel hard to keep up with. I must humbly disagree w the NYT & Financial Times reviews of this book. Too many characters, too many pronouns, too little plot. How it won the Booker is beyond me - the books that win prizes are often some of the worst I read. ? At the end I too wondered why on earth did she named this Wolf Hall? The Seymours of Wolf Hall had little to nothing to do with this book. I enjoyed learning a little more about Mr. Cromwell but thought the book poorly written.
Posted on Aug 17, 2011 10:31:04 PM PDT
E. K. Johnson says:
Anne's Belly! Thank you G. B. for giving me a good laugh after a long day. Are you a professional writer? I hope so. I'd read anything you wrote (and send it to Hilary Mantel with a note "hint, hint." Cheers
In reply to an earlier post on Aug 25, 2011 11:18:12 PM PDT
G. B. Talovich says:
@E. K. Johnson: Thanks for the kind words. I write mostly for the joy of writing, and get paid for little. You are always welcome to visit my blog, Wandering in Wulai, at talovich.blogspot.com
Posted on Mar 18, 2013 12:05:54 PM PDT
Martha Dillow says:
I very much enjoyed your review. Excellent job recreating Mantel's style. . . which I found unusual. . . sometimes very effective and often confusing. Nice job.
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