Hilary Mantel’s Novel Will Encourage You to Vacation at “Wolf Hall”

600_215817662Everyone is familiar with Henry VIII’s story, one way or another. Whether from TV (The Tudors) or film (The Other Boleyn Girl) or just plain old history class, we all know about King Henry’s driving desire for divorce in his quest for a male heir. But acclaimed author Hilary Mantel approaches the story from a different angle in Wolf Hall. She tells the story of Henry VIII and England in the early 1500s through protagonist Thomas Cromwell.

Cromwell rose from his working-class family and abusive father into the tutelage of Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, feared advisor of the King. Learning from the master of manipulation, Cromwell takes over after Wolsey’s death, assisting the King in obtaining a divorce so he can marry Anne Boleyn. What results is a character study hidden within a game for the throne and Henry’s heir.

Mantel’s Wolf Hall is just the first in a planned trilogy following Cromwell in England’s history. She has a very unique voice that takes some acclimatizing to. While told in the omniscient third person, everything unfolds from Cromwell’s perspective with Mantel referring to him constantly as “he” in similar fashion to a first-person narrator referring to themselves as “I.” This removed yet personal perspective gives you a new outlook into the world of England at this time while still providing humorous moments and observations.

For anyone in love with English history, this a new take on an old story. Because Wolf Hall is a part of a trilogy, much of the novel is spent developing Cromwell as a character and setting up many of the other royal characters. It takes nearly 2/3 of the book before it feels that something is really happening with the Anne Boleyn plot, and the ending (dealing with Thomas More) feels anticlimactic. Yet I still find myself eager to read Bringing Up Bodies (the sequel), so it appears that Mantel is at least a captivating storyteller.

 

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