by Hilary Mantel
There’s been no shortage of praise for Mantel’s award-winning book, but if fell a bit short of my expectations. The book follows the life of Thomas Cromwell; from his early years spent under the oppressive thumb of his blacksmith father, to later in life as he juggled Henry VIII desire for a divorce and the political upheaval that followed.
Cromwell makes for an interesting character, but not one that’s particularly enthralling. He has a cold air about him and it was hard for me to feel like I was seeing the real him the majority of the time. The parts I liked the best gave the reader a view into Cromwell’s personal life, his relationship with his daughters and the grief that he eventually faces. I also enjoy the political games that were played in court. Mantel does a great job describing the rapidly shifting loyalties and favor among King Henry’s advisors and subjects.
I tend to enjoy historical fiction, but I think I felt a little lost without a clear story arch. There’s a mess of characters all vying for the reader’s attention and Mantel doesn’t seem to have a strong opinion about who should be the headliner. Yes it’s Cromwell’s story, but he almost seems to be the glass through which we see the action and not the central focus of the book. Is it really Cromwell’s story, or is it Anne and Henry’s, Catharine’s, Mary Boleyn’s, Thomas More’s, Princess Mary’s, Thomas Wolsey’s? By the end I didn’t feel too invested in any of their lives. I’ve read so many books, (fiction and nonfiction,) about Tudor era England that much of the plot covered felt repetitive.
BOTTOM LINE: I didn’t hate it, I didn’t love it; I just felt ambivalent towards it by the end. There were some interesting parts and I like learning more about Thomas Cromwell, but perhaps my expectations were too high after hearing nothing but praise for the last couple years. I haven’t decided if I’ll read the rest of the trilogy yet.