This is an enormous novel – difficult to read in bed. It is on the Man Booker 2009 Short List. This is partly why I wanted to read it, but mostly I was interested in the story.
Here’s the synopsis from the publisher …
Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2009 ‘Lock Cromwell in a deep dungeon in the morning,’ says Thomas More, ‘and when you come back that night he’ll be sitting on a plush cushion eating larks’ tongues, and all the gaolers will owe him money.’
England, the 1520s. Henry VIII is on the throne, but has no heir. Cardinal Wolsey is his chief advisor, charged with securing the divorce the pope refuses to grant. Into this atmosphere of distrust and need comes Thomas Cromwell, first as Wolsey’s clerk, and later his successor. Cromwell is a wholly original man: the son of a brutal blacksmith, a political genius, a briber, a charmer, a bully, a man with a delicate and deadly expertise in manipulating people and events. Ruthless in pursuit of his own interests, he is as ambitious in his wider politics as he is for himself. His reforming agenda is carried out in the grip of a self-interested parliament and a king who fluctuates between romantic passions and murderous rages. From one of our finest living writers, ‘Wolf Hall’ is that very rare thing: a truly great English novel, one that explores the intersection of individual psychology and wider politics. With a vast array of characters, and richly overflowing with incident, it peels back history to show us Tudor England as a half-made society, moulding itself with great passion, suffering and courage.
Ms Mantel uses an interesting device in that she refers to the protagonist (Thomas Cromwell) as ‘he’. This was a bit confusing at times – I kept wondering which he?
I found this story compelling – despite being over 600 pages long my interest never flagged. I know nothing about this period in history and found all of the ‘wheeling and dealing’ fascinating. In particular, I had no idea how involved the church was with state affairs. Ms Mantel makes the world of Tudor England tantalizingly real. I was sorry when it ended I wanted to know what happened next. I did do an Internet search on Thomas Cromwell and was disappointed to learn that he was executed (so maybe Ms Mantel was wise to end it when she did).
I’ve now read two of the six Man Booker short listed titles (Wolf Hall and The Children’s Book). Out of those two I thought The Children’s Bookwas better. Being Australian, I should read Coetzee next, but I’ll probably read Sarah Waters.
Here are some other reviews …