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Showing 1-10 of 1,852 reviews(Verified Purchases). See all 2,437 reviews
on July 1, 2015
Movies based on books rarely live up to the magic of the book. That’s not a condemnation of movies or the movie industry, but rather a reflection of greatest source of magic of all—man’s imagination. No reality ever lives up to my best fantasies.
Normally, I read a book first and then—if a subsequent film production gets rave reviews—I’ll see the movie. Occasionally, the movie will live magnificently up to all my wildest expectations; To Kill a Mockingbird is a good example of movie-from-book perfection. And occasionally, rarely, a movie will surpass the book. I thought The Graduate a mediocre book, but the movie was and always will be a classic portrait of a particular time and place.
Which brings us to Wolf Hall. I’m not sure how and why I missed the book. It won a Man-Booker Prize (Great Britain’s equivalent of the Pulitzer, though over there they might say the Pulitzer is America’s equivalent of the Booker) and then author Hilary Mantel turned right around and won another Man-Booker for the sequel to Wolf Hall, Bring Up the Bodies. That is, I believe, the only time Booker prizes have ever been awarded to a novel and then its sequel.
Not only had I missed the book(s), but at first, when I saw the trailers on PBS for the film version, I wasn’t all that intrigued. Downton Abbey had just finished its last episode of the season and it was hard to imagine anything equaling that. So, a mini-series based on Henry VIII and his wretched excesses, told from the point of view of Thomas Cromwell, one of the king’s, ah, shall we say, less fastidious enablers… Ho, hum. I’ve read my history; I’ve seen A Man for All Seasons; been there, done that. But a Close Relative By Marriage insisted we watch, and after the first ten minutes you could have set fire to my chair and I wouldn’t have left. That’s how good the production was, and Mark Rylance, the British actor who stars as Thomas Cromwell, gave one of the most compelling performances I have ever seen: quiet, understated, absolutely convincing, and absolutely electrifying. So consider this also a rave review for the PBS series.
(By the way, for those of you interested in historical tidbits: any great English house with “abbey” as part of its name, as in Downton Abbey, is so named because when Henry VIII, aided by Thomas Cromwell, took the great monasteries from the Pope, he awarded some of those lands to favored courtiers who retained the appellation “abbey.”)
After the second episode I galloped to my desk and ordered copies of both Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies for myself and just everybody I know, and as soon as they arrived, I dove in. Now I know why Hilary Mantel won the Man-Booker twice. She deserves it.
In case you’re even more of a troglodyte than I and you’ve never heard of Hilary Mantel or Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, yes, it’s Henry VIII and all his unfortunate wives and all those men and women who circled around the king and his court like flies around a corpse, but… But how much do you actually know about Thomas Cromwell? Ah. That’s the point. That’s part of Hilary Mantel’s genius: she has taken a famous and influential man about whom little is known and gone to town with him.
Thomas Cromwell is one of those mysterious figures in history who beggar the imagination. Acknowledged as arguably the single most influential minister (that’s minister in the political sense, not ecclesiastical) in all of English history, he seems to have sprung fully evolved out of his own imagining and will power. Even the authoritative Encyclopedia Britannica describes his origins and early life as “obscure.” Probably (no one knows for certain) born around 1485; probably (no one knows for certain) born in Putney, at that time a decidedly seedy suburb of London; probably (no one know for certain) born to a man who may have been named Cromwell, but who may have been named Smyth who was probably (no one knows for certain) a blacksmith, but who might have been a brewer or a cloth merchant or all of the above; Thomas Cromwell probably (no one knows for certain) and improbably somehow ended up in Italy early in his life; he probably (no one knows for certain) lived in the Low Countries (think Flanders, Holland, Belgium); and he was probably (no one knows for certain) somehow associated with the London Merchant Adventurers. His early history contains the qualifying words “seems,” “appears,” “might have,” and “probably” almost more than any others.
And yet, somehow, out of these inauspicious beginnings, Thomas Cromwell suddenly burst into history in 1520 as a solicitor (that’s “lawyer” to we simple-minded Americans) to the great and immensely powerful Cardinal Wolsey. How did a man from such meager beginnings in such a rigidly stratified society manage to catapult himself into the halls of power and the pages of history?
I stumbled across an interview on the internet with Hilary Mantel, and that question is pretty much what compelled her to start her journey. So that’s half the genius.
The other half is Mantel’s writing.
To quote Rudyard Kipling:
“There are nine and sixty ways of constructing tribal lays,
And every single one of them is right.”
Doubtless very true, and who am I to question as great a writer as Rudyard Kipling? But some methods of construction are righter than others, and Hilary Mantel’s writing is breathtaking.
Of all the varied ways of constructing tribal lays, the one that appeals most to me is the kind where a master artist plays with his or her materials. Think Shakespeare. Think Faulkner. Think Cormac McCarthy. Think Hilary Mantel. The English language, so rich and varied, so ripe with multiple subtle meanings, lends itself to a kind of imaginative playfulness, verbal pyrotechnics, if you like, that amaze and delight. She writes in the present tense, third person singular, which lends an urgency to her tale, but she jumps back and forth in time, sometimes in a sentence, sometimes in a paragraph, sometimes in a section, using the mnemonic device of Cromwell’s memories to give us information about him and his past. But it is the oblique grace with which she tells her story that is so delightful. I will give you one example.
Bring Up the Bodies, the second volume of what will eventually become Mantel’s trilogy, opens with Thomas Cromwell and Henry VIII out hawking. In Wolf Hall, Cromwell’s daughters have died, but he cannot allow himself the luxury of grief. He lives to serve the king, and as a minister to the king he cannot indulge in such distracting luxuries as grief or rage or love or hate. Whatever he might feel or want must be subsumed in service to the throne. So in “Falcons,” the opening chapter of Bring Up the Bodies, Cromwell and Henry are sitting their horses and watching their falcons, and a lesser, more pedestrian, writer might have opened the book with a paragraph such as:
“Cromwell watches his falcons plunging after their prey. He has named the birds after his daughters, and as he and the king watch from horseback, this one, Grace, takes her prey in silence, returning to his fist with only a slight rustling of feathers and a blood-streaked breast…”
And so on.
Now, consider this, Señorita; consider how Hilary Mantel handles the opening.
“His children are falling from the sky. He watches from horseback, acres of England stretching behind him; they drop, gilt-winged, each with a blood-filled gaze. Grace Cromwell hovers in thin air. She is silent when she takes her prey, silent as she glides to his fist. But the sounds she makes then, the rustle of feathers and the creak, the sigh and riffle of pinion, the small cluck-cluck from her throat, these are sounds of recognition, intimate, daughterly, almost disapproving. Her breast is gore-streaked and flesh clings to her claws.”
If you don’t like that, you don’t like chocolate cake.
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Even though it happened 481 years ago, I have long nursed a grudge against Thomas Cromwell for leading the inquiry on Queen Anne Boleyn for infidelity against King Henry VIII, the findings of which resulted in her death by beheading. I thought him a foul man, indeed.

Author Hilary Mantel’s magnificent novel did not make me rethink Boleyn’s innocence, but it did make me rethink Cromwell’s guilt. Her gift is to humanize a man who seemed a historical monster. His list of persecutions just in the period this book covers is staggering: isolating former Queen Katherine and separating her from her daughter, Mary; writing Mary out of succession; ruthlessly seizing church assets; laying the ground for (or entrapment of?) Thomas More’s treason which results in his beheading; and taking lethal vengeance against enemies of his former mentor, the Cardinal Wosley.

Mantel brings us to Cromwell’s side by writing in the present tense from Cromwell’s perspective. That immediacy turns the reader into Cromwell’s confidant – page after page, we are with him as he navigates a dynamic but uncertain world – privy to his rationale, humor, and beneficence as he toils ceaselessly on behalf of the King and his realm. Mantel furthers our intimate status by virtually eliminating dialogue tags in this work. Since we are already in the scene, the author wisely allows the conversation to flow unimpeded – little “he said, she said, they said” orients us. This is a narrative that is lived, not read. You must pay close attention to follow this kind of writing. In effect, you must become Thomas Cromwell to Thomas Cromwell: careful, thoughtful, alert, unobtrusive and present at all times.

I read this book twice. It is an astonishing work of historical fiction both for its story and storytelling style.
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on January 31, 2017
5 Stars

This is the first in a series of books about Thomas Cromwell, the Secretary (of State) to King Henry VIII of England in the 16th Century.

It follows Thomas’ life from boyhood as a butcher’s son to his rise to the exalted position of one of King Henry’s closest confidants.

As a protégé of Cardinal Wolsey, Thomas learned statehood from him. He was very close to the Cardinal and deeply mourned his passing. He was a contemporary of Thomas More and disliked him. He watched More fall from grace as well.

The book talks about Queen Katherine and Henry’s repudiation of her. It introduces Anne Boleyn and her dislike for Thomas, as well as her volatile personality.

He had suffered tragedies with his personal life, with his wife and children passing of various illnesses. He imagines that they are still with him, giving counsel and comfort.

Thomas Cromwell is a most interesting character. Although I watched the Showtime series “The Tudors,” it did not delve into Thomas personal life. Beyond the series, I knew little about him. He was fascinating.

Hilary Mantel did extensive research before writing this book. It is both scholarly and detailed. It is not a dry history like so many biographies are. It is rather a historical story, written in a fashion that is accessible to everyone. My only complaint is one that many readers had, the “he/him” dilemma of not knowing who was speaking.

I have already purchased the second book in the series, “Bringing up the Bodies,” and very much look forward to delving into the next chapter in the Thomas Cromwell story.
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on August 10, 2016
I really liked this book overall. I had some knowledge of the historical events portrayed but did not really know a great deal about Cromwell. This book portrays him in a more sympathetic light than I have seen in the past. It is fairly well written and gives an interesting perspective on what might have been what these people were like in this very influential and unique time in world history. One gripe is I often did not know who the writer was referring too. The book is all from Cromwell's POV but refers to him as "he" rather than "I" and sometimes it is not clear who the "he" is. Does not help that almost all men are named Thomas and all girls are named Anne. I am a pretty fast reader but this one took me a relatively long time to plow through. Was still enjoyable and I liked it but I don't see it as a book I will read over and over again. I hope to check out the PBS miniseries soon as I have heard that is very well done. I read the sequel as well and it is about the same quality though I found it a bit drier. Check it out if you are interested in the Henry VIII and his various intrigues. Definitely worth the read
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on September 8, 2017
Mantel's Wolf Hall has been reviewed to death so I'm just going to hit the high and low notes. The age is richly invoked and the novel opens an absolutely fascinating window onto the past. Mantel also succeeds in putting flesh on the bones of the main historical characters, notably an Henry VIII, a scheming Ann Boleyn and Cromwell himself, and the central plot revolving around the reformation in England interwoven with Henry's infamous marital affairs keeps you turning the page (or listening, as the case may be). However, that's where my praise dries up - for all its merits, Wolf Hall became a rather dull slog for me. The enormous cast of characters (not entirely the author's fault - this isn't fiction) meant that most are very anemic and they had a tendency to merge into one another (frankly even the main protagonists remained elusive), and since so many share the same first name - Christendom in the early fifteen hundreds was evidently populated exclusively by people named either Thomas or Mary - and Mantel felt no compulsion stick to last names, I (like so many others) was constantly confused about who was who, a problem undoubtedly aggravated by the peculiar perspective in which Mantel has chosen to write. Moreover, the plot is driven hugely by dialogue and as a result, history unfolds through the mechanics of dry discourse between players and the drama is lost in the process. England's cataclysmic wrench from the yoke of the Catholic church should have been more dramatic and exciting, instead the pace sags under the weight of ponderous discourse rather than grand exposition even and the plot often gets lost in minutiae. Above all, the novel lacks action and tension. Mantel makes no use of that marvelous contrivance of a set up; you just never feel like you are holding your breath waiting for the fates and fortunes of the characters to be decided on the outcome of an unfolding event, what outcome to hope for or fear - and events are merely reported anyway; you just surmise through the course of an exchange between characters that the next event has happened and what the consequences might be. Still, I made it to the end, testament to the pull of its fine prose, I suspect - or the narration, which was superb.
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on May 1, 2017
Oh my. I sooo wanted to like this book and I just can't. I resolve myself to getting through it and simply cannot read more than a few pages before finding some put off chore around the house I'd rather tend to. The author's writing style is just flat out strange. For every paragraph I read, I swear I've got to go back two in order to figure out who "he" or "she" is. Ugh.
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on February 18, 2017
Loved it.....and really enjoy Mantel's intelligence and style....can't wait for #3,,,,cheers, Hilary...everyone should read "An Elegant Madness" for an intelligent and thoroughly researched description of Regency England; I particularly love the sweet foursome teaching each other to dance the waltz...who has NOT danced stuff that the elders decried and put down...mine was the 'Twist'.
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on June 12, 2017
Just finished reading this for the second time and felt I fully understood the astonishing achievement of Mantels writing. On the first time through I was occupied with the intricacies of the narrative but now could focus on the technical elements. What can I add to the praises already - rightly- heaped upon her? Utterly compelling. Now on with a second encounter with The Bodies. But the mystery deepens - where is Volume 3?
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on March 23, 2015
I enjoyed Wolf Hall, even though I did not think it was a superior novel. It was good as historical fiction, but suffered from the same flaws that generally afflict historical fiction, somewhat wooden characterization and plotting that is controlled by the historical event rather than by the imagination.

Of course, that is what it was and one is unfair to blame a book for being what it is supposed to be. I did find the history fascinating. Raised as a Catholic I always had a very positive view of Thomas More, and Mantel paints a much more negative picture of him than I had ever encountered. I had also always viewed Cromwell as a time serving lackey of Henry VIII. Mantel apparently takes a revisionist view of Cromwell, a view apparently on the rise after a scholarly and sympathetic view of him was published some years ago. She makes him into an interesting character, even if she does not get terribly deep into the workings of what must have been a very interesting, first rate mind.

Even without much in depth psychological analysis the lengthy story is well told. There are only a very few jarring anachronsims, and the story is easy to follow, even if the dialogue is not. I share the view of many that Mantel's playing fast and loose with referents of the pronoun "he" is not only confusing but dismaying to even a careful reader. It should not have happened. Very sloppy work from one who fancies herself a serious novelist.

Nevertheless it was a good read and I do recommend it.
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on April 28, 2017
I am an avid reader of historical fiction. I felt that this book would fit right into my wheelhouse. However, even though I knew the history of the events, I could not follow the disjointed manner in which this book was presented. The incessant use of pronouns left me constantly in doubt as to what character was speaking or was being spoken about. I gave up after reading half of the book. I know most of the reviews were positive, but I just did not get it.
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