Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Review:- Hilary MANTEL – “Wolf Hall ”

Year Published: - 2009 (Man Booker Prize Winner 2009)
Where the book was from:- My own copy
ISBN: - 978-0-00-723020-4
Pages: - 650pp
Genre: - Historical Fiction
Location:- England – Henry VII
I’s reign
How I came across it: -  I decided to read some of the Booker Prize winners
Rating: - ***** ***
One sentence summary:- When The Times called it ‘The most gripping story you’ll ever read’  they lied but it is a passable historical novel.

Describe the plot without giving anything away:- The story of the rise of Thomas Cromwell from a low-born boy to the most influential man in Henry VIII’s England. 

General comments:- Wolf Hall is by no means the best historical novel I have read and the reason for its Booker Prize I have yet to fathom out.  

 In particular I really dislike Hilary Mantel’s use of the word ‘He’.  I was taught that ‘he’ referred to the last male mentioned.  Sometimes Hilary obeys that rule but equally frequently she uses it to refer to Cromwell even if he wasn’t the last person mentioned.  It’s so confusing and whilst it may be a clever style it’s so difficult to follow at times that one has to re-read a paragraph to understand who the ‘He’ is.  That may seem like a petty thing but when it goes from start to finish it’s very off-putting.  Here’s an example –

Walter wipes his mouth. ‘How long?’
Madoc says, ‘God knows. Those fuckers can fly.’
He straightens up.  Into his hand has floated a four-pound hammer.

Has the hammer been picked up by Madoc or Thomas Cromwell.  (Only later when there is reference back to this moment do we learn it was Cromwell.)

A page earlier we have Behind Henry’s back, Gardiner makes a Gargoyle face at him.  Is ‘him’ Henry or Cromwell. 

There are two ‘he’s in this paragraph – the first relates to Francis Bryan (the man most recently mentioned) and the second to Cromwell;-
‘Why not go back?’ Risking dangerous slippage, he throws his hands out. ‘Which of the city wives is waiting for you? Do you have one for each of the twelve days of Christmas?’ He almost laughs, till Bryan adds, ‘Don’t you sectaries hold your women in common?’

 The storyline is well researched and I learned a lot about Henry and his relationship with Katherine and Anne Boleyn – which is far as the story goes.  That is another quibble I have with it – it doesn’t really finish in my view.

All in all I preferred 'Flud' though this gets an extra star for its research and historical interest.

Quotations:-  The hunting season – or at least, the season when the king hunts every day – will soon be over. Whatever is happening elsewhere, whatever deceits and frustrations, you can forget them in the field.  The hunter is among the most innocent of men; living in the moment makes him feel pure.  When he returns in the evening, his body aches, his mind is full of pictures of leaves and sky; he does not want to read documents.  His miseries, his perplexities have receded, and they will stay away, provided – after food and wine, laughter and exchange of stories – he gets up at dawn to do it all over again.

She turns her head away, but through the thin film of her veil he can see her skin glow.  Because women will coax: tell me, just tell me something, tell me your thoughts; and this he has done.

My husband used to say, lock Cromwell in a deep dungeon in the morning, 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.

Hilary Mantel CBE (born Hilary Thompson) was born in Hadfield, Derbyshire, in 1952 and spent her early years at the same village school as her mother and grandmother. She then went to a Cheshire convent school (which obviously gave her much material for ‘Fludd’), the LSE and Sheffield University. She lived in Africa and the Middle East for ten years and published her first novel ‘Every Day is Mother’s Day’ in 1985.


  1. I listened to this book, and enjoyed it a lot - 24 hours. I didn't experience anything of the confusion you refer to, I guess thanks to its fantastic narrator. I'm discovering that books are better to listen to than to read now. And the other way around is true too: some books don't work at all as audiobooks. Here is my review: http://wordsandpeace.wordpress.com/2011/08/18/review-63-wolf-hall/
    Emma @ Words And Peace

  2. Scriptor I agree with you one hundred percent, and more. I have no idea why they decided to award the Booker to such a tedious and amateurish effort. My fingers itched to edit as I read. In fact, I kept a pencil alongside, and put names over the "he's" -- when I could figure out who they referred to, that is! My daughter gave the book to me for Christmas a couple of years ago. She should have blown the money on riotous living instead! :0)

  3. Thanks, Carol, I'm glad it wasn't just me!


Hello folks - your comments are always welcome.