Friday, March 10, 2017

Review: Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

Published in 2009, Wolf Hall is the first installment of the Thomas Cromwell Trilogy by Hilary Mantel. It starts out in 1500 England with a brief history of Thomas Cromwell. Fast forward 20 years to a time when the country is on the brink of disaster if the king dies without a male heir. Henry VIII wants to annul his 20-year marriage and marry Anne Boleyn. Goodreads does a much better job at finishing the description, "the pope and most of Europe opposes him. Into this impasse steps Thomas Cromwell: a wholly original man, a charmer and a bully, both idealist and opportunist, astute in reading people, and implacable in his ambition. But Henry is volatile: one day tender, one day murderous. Cromwell helps him break the opposition, but what will be the price of his triumph?"
King Henry VIII

Hilary Mantel wrote this in a style can be difficult to follow, even for those who have any kind of knowledge of the Tudor time period. Because I have a limited knowledge, I felt it was that much more difficult for me to keep track of everything. I'm not sure if it's the writing style, the many characters with the same name, or both that make it difficult to keep track of all the details. I felt like I had to keep referring to the front of the book that lists the family tree and characters in each section. It was almost as if I had repeatedly had to start again at the beginning. Mantel relied heavily on using the pronoun "he" and since there are frequently two or men in a scene, it is often unclear which "he" is which or speaking.

During my book club's discussion, another member asked the one who recommended the book if she enjoyed reading Shakespeare to which she answered, "I do." And that sums it up. If you enjoy reading Shakespeare, you'll enjoy reading Wolf Hall.

It's obvious that Mantel did her research and this is a popular book considering she won the Man Booker Prize in 2009 and the National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction in 2010. She also received the Man Booker Prize and the Costa Book Award for Bring Up the Bodies, Book Two of the Thomas Cromwell Trilogy. The trilogy has also been made into a popular mini-series of the same name on BBC Two, having first aired in January 2015 - less than five years after the book was published.

Despite being able to finish the book, I will not be reading the rest of the trilogy. This is only the 2nd time I can recall that I will not be moving onto the next novel in a series - the first being The Diviners by Libba Bray. As much as I love historical fiction, I prefer being able to enjoy the book without getting a headache from trying to understand the plot and characters.

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars.

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