Wolf Hall

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Wolf Hall
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.

15 comments:

52booksorbust said...

I've started this one several times and I just can't get into it. It might be because I am not a huge fan of historical fiction, but it also nice to see someone else who wasn't enraptured by it.

Sandy Nawrot said...

I'll be honest. The only incentive for me to read this was the fact that Simon Vance narrates the SECOND book. Beyond that? I'm not well-versed on the Tudors or anything involving that part of history. I don't think this would be the book to start with.

Brooke said...

I love the Tudors and I love Cromwell, but I tend to hate historical fiction. I've stayed away for that reason even though I have Wolf Hall on the shelves. Maybe I'll read the first 50 and see how it goes.

Kailana said...

One day I will read this. I have heard good things about the audio, but I own it in paperback.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

52booksorbust - There were interesting aspects, I just felt so underwhelmed by it.

Sandy - That's hilarious. Honestly the reason I bumped this one up the list was because the second book got incredible reviews and I thought if both books are so great I better get started on the series.

Brooke - That's a good idea. I think you'll know if it's right for you at that point.

Kailana - It's a beast, so if you aren't loving it then it definitely drags.

celinekiernan said...

Absolutely devoured this book. Didn't want it to end, and am jonesing for #3 in the trilogy.

It never fails to tickle me how unique and diverse a reaction books inspire in their individual readers!

ebookclassics said...

Thank you for this review! I just started reading the book because I've heard so many good things about it, but right away I could tell I wasn't going to love it. I thought, Is it just me? I'll keep reading, but it's nice to know maybe not everybody loves it.

Trish said...

I need to bloghop more from my computer! Love the look of your blog Melissa.

Yup, everyone raves about these books (I didn't realize it was to be a trilogy!) so it's kind of nice seeing a tempered review. I'm interested in the time period and the historical characters but the length has turned me off so far.

Andi said...

I haven't read this one because it won't load on my Nook! What the heck? I will get around to it one day.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

celinekiernan - Isn't that fantastic! It's great that each reader takes something different away from a book.

Ebookclassics - it always makes me feel better to know I wasn't the only one who didn't love a popular book.

Trish - Thanks! I've been struggling with visiting blogs as well. I'm still not sure if I should read the sequel.

Andi - Ha, I love how technology makes our lives so "easy."

Brona Joy said...

Hype and expectation does influence the way you read a book. I've had this happen to me with some big name/popular books too (A Secret History comes to mind).

Luckily for me, I read Wolf Hall very early on.
I found the pronoun usage a little confusing throughout, but once I got going, I devoured it in a few days.
I was impressed with how lovable she made Cromwell (one of the villains in most histories I've read before). In fact, I found him quite endearing :-)

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Brona Joy - A Secret History was that way for me too! I agree about Cromwell. I always had such a negative view of him in the past and this book definitely make him more sympathetic.

Jeanne said...

I loved the way we see through Cromwell but don't always understand how he reacts. That really brought home to me how foreign to modern experience the Tudor court would have been.
There is an audiobook version of these, and I recommend listening to them. Going through slowly enhances the experience, at least for me--I read much faster than I am read to.

thecuecard said...

Yes I read the 2nd book in the trilogy and felt similar to how you felt reading book 1. It had good parts and also slow parts. Here are my thoughts on book 2:
http://www.thecuecard.com/node/710

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Jeanne - I listened to the audio and I definitely think I enjoyed it that way more than I would have if I'd read the print version!

Thecuecard - Hmmm, well that doesn't make me want to rush out and get the next book.