Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

Do you like things that are both quiet and loud? Can you read a trashy tabloid and then enjoy an artfully produced historical documentary? Do you like the grey areas in life? If so, this book is for you.

Today’s scandals have nothing on Henry VIII and his henchman Thomas Cromwell.

Wolf Hall takes place from the point of view of Englishman, Thomas Cromwell.  Cromwell was the son of a drunken blacksmith who beat him on a regular basis. This abuse made Thomas very, very tough as he ran away from home at an early age. He became a soldier—for France! He married well into a family with a booming textile business and he made the business even more successful. He helped smuggle in English translations of the Bible. He was both the assistant to Cardinal Thomas Wolsey and a heretic. From nothing, he became the right hand man of Henry VIII.

Based on the whims of Henry VIII (a very fickle king), Cromwell played with people as pawns in an elaborate game of chess. But were you to catch his eye near his estate of Austin Friars, he would take you in if you needed refuge. If he saw himself reflected in you, he would give you a hand and help you. He was capable of great cruelty or kindness.

I will tell you, this book is a challenging read. Everyone seems to be named Thomas, John, Henry, Harry, William, Mary or Anne. Sometimes it is difficult to know who is speaking. Generally I found that if it said “he said” it was usually Thomas Cromwell. Don’t be daunted by the family history charts and the cast of characters. This is helpful especially when characters are introduced and then not mentioned again for a while– and did I mention everyone seems to be named Thomas, John, Henry, Harry, William, Mary or Anne?

So pick up Wolf Hall, winner of the 2009 Man Booker Prize and then halfway through be sure to request the sequel, Bringing Up the Bodies, which is, if you can believe it, even more acclaimed, winning the 2012 Man Book and the Costa Award for Best Novel and the Costa Award for Book of the Year! Once you get a glimpse into Mantel’s re-creation of English history you won’t be able to look away.

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