Well, after about 3 years, I finally finished it. The prize winning Wolf Hall has taken me three attempts and at least 3 years to finish. I think that might be in real time for most of the book…
I have said it about other books, but this time I really mean it. This is a BIG book.
I actually ordered it before it came out, I was so confident I would enjoy it. So that is one reason it has taken me so long to read it, an early hardback edition takes some lugging around. I even visited Hampton Court during my marathon reading, and was sorely tempted to buy a paperback edition as I had left my copy at home. At least one bookgroup turned down the opportunity to read it as it was too heavy for some of the older members to hold (in pre paperback days at least). I think it is also a bit on the long side for a monthly book group, but I would say that, wouldn’t I?
This is an amazing, beautifully written book. Some of the scenes in it remain with me. Possibly this is a reason why you cannot read it fast; it’s like a rich chocolate cake which needs eating slowly as it is basically so complex and detailed. Admittedly, it does suffer a little from being set in a time when everyone was called Henry, Thomas, Mary or Anne. Add to this the notorious problem in this volume of Thomas Cromwell, the chief protagonist, operative and character, being referred to as “he” and many a page and paragraph needs to be read twice. The big events that this book covers, such as the ending of Henry’s marriage and the beginning of the stripping of the monasteries, do need a lot of careful thought. The downfall of Wolsey is seen as a gradual event, whereby he was stripped of his property and wealth so that Thomas and his closest companions are forced to adapt and struggle to provide for his household.
This is a book that makes the big characters of Tudor history human. Thomas makes an amazing ascent from bullied child to brilliant strategist. Wolsey is a jovial but powerful worker for King, church but mostly himself. I liked the character of Mary Boleyn, flirtatious but vulnerable, but I did get a little exasperated with Thomas. Maybe it is because he is such an honest picture of a whole person (Oliver C’s “warts and all?) that Mantel paints him as a brilliant man, the supreme fixer of the realm, as well as someone whose priorities are a bit dubious.
This book is populated with engaging characters, humourous asides and what seems like immense research. I did Bolt’s “A Man for All Seasons” at A level; I recognised so many of Thomas More’s lines that I slowed down reading the end of the novel just to see if they were direct quotes.
This is an immense novel. I did enjoy it, in the same way as I enjoyed A Suitable Boy, such a long read that the characters linger in the mind. I also got Bringing up the Bodies on the day it was published. I hope that it doesn’t take me years to read that…