Customer Review

27 of 30 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Hugely engaging narrative marred by risible dialogue and clumsy pronouns, January 15, 2010
This review is from: Wolf Hall (Hardcover)
The early modern period is one of my very favourites in English literature and history, and both a good friend and my husband told me 'Wolf Hall' was the best novel they'd read in 2009. And of course, this was the Booker winner.

So I came to read full of enthusiasm.

Unfortunately, but perhaps partly due to my very high expectations, 'Wolf Hall' has not been a success for me. In particular, I found its language to be extremely frustrating: often uneven, and sometimes staggeringly clumsy.

The confusing use of improperly distinguished pronouns throughout has already been noted by a lot of readers here, and I can't agree with those reviewers suggesting it is a deliberate stylistic device. It just seems a pointless authorial affectation to me. After all, what does it actually add to the text?

But far worse is the dialogue, which is frequently ridiculously anachronistic, not just in vocabulary but also cadence.

Whilst I appreciate that Mantel is trying to bring the period alive for modern readers unfamiliar with the era, the speech (and Cromwell's stream-of-consciousness interiority) is occasionally so badly expressed I found myself becoming exasperated with the whole novel. I just can't understand why Mantel has made such a mess of this when other elements of the story are so well-written, and when there are so many dramatic resources from the early modern period she could have drawn upon for reference.

Populist historical novelists such as Philippa Gregory and Tracy Chevalier seem to negotiate the competing demands of verisimilitude and comprehension easily enough, so I was dismayed to see a Booker winner - with all the serious literary craft that implies - get it so very, very badly wrong.

Would I recommend this book to my friends? Yes; if you disregard the language (an aspect which is important to me, but may not be to those less familiar with the literature of the period), it is an engaging page-turner for whiling away this dismal winter.

Is it a worthy Booker winner? No, no, no. Compare it with the multi-layered satisfactions of Peter Carey's `Oscar and Lucinda', the sensitivity of `Staying On', the lyricism of `The Remains of the Day', or the importance of `Schindler's Ark', and you'll see why `Wolf Hall'- if it really is the best novel of the year - is proof that 2009 will not be a great literary vintage.
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