Customer Review

Reviewed in the United States on June 20, 2015
You probably already know the story, about Henry VIII wanting to divorce his first wife and marry Anne Boleyn. Much has been written about how great this book is, and I won't contradict that. The charm of the book, as I see it, is that it is written in (what I suppose is) the sixteenth century way of talking, and it puts you right into the story, because it is as seen through the eyes of the protagonist Thomas Cromwell. This is a selection of a friends' book club, so I am going to finish it and enjoy the discussion. My complaint is that in the interest of maintaining the historical flavor, the writing is almost impenetrable. I have to read sentences and paragraphs twice to figure out who is talking. It is often unclear who "he", "him", and "his" refer to, but in those cases you can usually assume Thomas Cromwell is meant. Lots of period vocabulary, like "chough" "martinmas" etc. (Footnotes would have been welcome, but maybe you are supposed to know or not care.) It helps that there is a list of characters and family tree. On the plus side, the details about life in the sixteenth century provide a lot of flavor. It might help to prepare yourself by reviewing the history of that period before you start the book. My only complaint is the effort required to decipher the text.
I wrote the preceding after 100 pages onto the book. I am now adding to my review after another 300 pages read. The story is very interesting, but the writing is almost incomprehensible. This may be only a matter of my personal preference, but I think that a prize winning author should be able to tell a story clearly. I understand that "literary" writing often makes a virtue of obscurity; books like that I don't like. I cannot tell whether Hilary Mantel is evasive, deceptive, dishonest, or simply unable to write simple English. Earlier I said that the list of characters was helpful. Actually it would have been a lot better of the characters were listed alphabetically, so that every time you come across a new name you don;t have to read through the entire list. The family trees, also -- they were OK , but the Boleyn family tree would have been more useful.
Within each paragraph, a person is referred to variously by his first name, last name, or title, so you cannot be sure who is saying what, until you have read it a few times. If you want to read this book you should first read the history -- for example, Henry VIII in wikipedia -- and then you will be able to follow the story more easily.
Who are the judges who decide the Man Booker prize? I don't respect their judgment. I suspect that they had the same problems that I did but were embarrassed to admit it.
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