Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

I needed a big, fat book to get me through a weeklong trip by air to Whitehorse and Wolf Hall, the 2009 winner of the Man Booker Prize - at 650 pages long - was just right. It's about Henry VIII and how he - rather than the pope - became the head of the church in England in order to divorce his first wife, Katherine of Spain, and marry Anne Boleyn. It is also about Thomas Cromwell, a lawyer who was born to a lowly and violent blacksmith, and how it happened that he became Henry VIII's powerful righthand man, drafting laws that modernized England. The story only covers about eight years, from 1527 - 1535, but the cast of characters is huge and the social, religious and political changes underway during that time are complex.

I really liked getting to know these people, especially Cromwell and his extended family. Mantel brings the period to life with small details woven into the storyline (rather than through exposition). For example, a poor woman who comes to Cromwell for help describes how she has been finding odd jobs since her husband left her; she is helping with the yearly laundering of the bed linen at a convent.

I also enjoyed seeing Anne and Mary Boleyn from a different viewpoint than that given in Philippa Gregory's The Other Boleyn Girl. By the end of the book, Cromwell and Anne Boleyn both still have their heads attached to their shoulders, so there much still to tell, and I've heard that Mantel is working on a sequel.

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