“In this – simply one of the finest historical novels in years – the opulent, brutal world of the Tudors comes to glittering, bloody life. It is the backdrop to the rise and rise of Thomas Cromwell: lowborn boy, charmer, bully, master of deadly intrigue, and, finally, most powerful of all Henry VIII’s courtiers.”
The book in two words:
- Challenging: If you are not used to this period of history, it may be quite confusing at first to understand the book. Mantel’s writing style may be difficult for someone unfamiliar with Shakespeare’s language, hence you might find the pace rather slow.
- Captivating: Nevertheless, as you pinpoint the characters (the stunning family tree at the beginning of the book is of great help here) and get used to the author’s style, Wolf Hall becomes a fascinating piece of literature! All the complex elements listed above are clearly compensated – in the end – by an enthralling and detailed story. This book is worth being discovered and read!
Express Review (without spoilers):
Overall, I have thoroughly enjoyed this book and I would recommend it to anyone fond of historical novels. Wolf Hall is the first instalment of a trilogy surrounding the Tudors (Wolf Hall, 2009; Bring Up The Bodies, 2012; The Mirror And The Light, 2019). Mantel was twice recipient of the Man Booker Prize for Wolf Hall and Bring Up The Bodies – a clear sign of quality, usually synonymous with international fame. And, indeed, quality was just around the corner for Wolf Hall! Truth be told, I rushed to buy the second book as soon as I finished the first.
Through the eyes and thoughts of Thomas Cromwell, the reader becomes an indirect witness of King Henry VIII’s tribulations. Perhaps one of the most interesting facet of the novel is the incremental rise to power and personal history of Cromwell, a man of low birth rank who succeeds in playing his cards subtly, slowly becoming indispensable to King Henry whilst staying in the shadows, observing everything and everyone. Mantel’s strength resides in her capacity to generate empathy and attachment towards her characters, notably Cromwell. Love, power, emotions, politics, religion, opulence, strategy, and violence: Wolf Hall has all it takes to make a great book.
Wolf Hall has recently been adapted to the small screen (2015) – still rather unknown in France and Belgium, probably overshadowed by the long-lasting fame of the Tudors series. Nonetheless, Wolf Hall deserves to be seen and acclaimed outside English speaking countries! The series, composed of six episodes, is a faithful representation of Hilary Mantel’s first two books (a second season should be released after the publication of The Mirror and the Light). Overall, the books are well depicted on-screen: from the dialogues to the slow-paced narrative to the characters’ personalities and traits. But wait, there is more: the series is surrounded by an all-star cast:
- Mark Rylance (Dunkirk, Ready Player One): Thomas Cromwell;
- Daniel Lewis (Homeland, Band of Brothers): King Henry VIII;
- Claire Foy (The Crown): Anne Boleyn;
- Jonathan Pryce (Game of Thrones, Pirate of the Caribbean): Cardinal Wolsey;
- Anton Lesser (Game of Thrones): Thomas More;
- Mark Gatiss (Sherlock, Game of Thrones): Stephen Gardiner;
- Tom Holland (Spider-Man: Homecoming): Gregory Cromwell.
“In May 1527, feeling embattled and bad-tempered, the cardinal opens a court of inquiry at York Place, to look into the validity of the king’s marriage. It’s a secret court; the queen is not required to appear, or even be represented; she’s not even supposed to know, but all Europe knows.”
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