Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Mike Suggests: Wolf Hall

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

While the topic of Henry VIII's lawyer and later chief minister, who engineered the king's first divorce and later marriage to Anne Boleyn, seemed unlikely to catch my attention, I decided to give it a try since it had won the Man Booker Prize. While the book will not appeal to all, it will certainly catch the attention of people who enjoy historical fiction, especially those who enjoy Tudor England, which has its fair share of historical fiction devoted to it.

Mantel casts Thomas Cromwell as a man far more human than his contemporaries; in religious views, in the treatment of his family, and in taking on countless cast-off children, orphans, and other unwanted individuals. Set against Cromwell is Thomas More; who denied the legality of Henry VIII's dissolved marriage brought about by Cromwell, treats his family with the same asceticism he treats his person, but who shares with Cromwell the fate of the executioner's chopping block.

Wolf Hall is largely a character-driven novel because, with personalities like these, it would be hard to imagine it otherwise--after all, it deals with kings, queens, bishops, and courtiers who are all looking out for number one. Perhaps that's why it's so difficult to watch as they go, one by one, to the executioner--or will, when Mantel concludes the tale in her promised sequel.

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