This historical novel elevates Thomas Cromwell, adviser to Henry VIII, from villainhood (as portrayed in “A Man For All Seasons”) to sympathetic character. It also pulls Thomas Moore’s reputation down from its saintly perch. Moore in this story is a sniveling sanctimonious character running his own inquisition searching for heretics (utilizing torture and burning at the stake). Cromwell on the other hand is portrayed as the consummate administrator, accountant and politician astute at reading people. He is portrayed as a family man hardened by his personal losses and with skeptical regard for the merits of religion. (His practicality is compatible with 21st Century values, perhaps too much so.)
This novel demonstrates a unique knack by the author for getting under the skin of her characters and capturing them (one feels) as they must have been. The basic plot is well known (Henry VIII changes wives), so there can be no surprises there. The adventure is in progressing through the “third person/virtual first person” narrative that lets the reader inside Cromwell’s mind and provides a semi-omniscient overview of the era. The story is told largely with the use of conversational dialog and interior thoughts of Cromwell. The reader is allowed to figure out who the various characters are by what’s being said and by context. Inference and subtlety are used where other writers might have used flat declarative sentences. The chronology of the story jumps around unpredictably as Cromwell’s recalls earlier experiences. The effort required to follow the action pulls the reader into the story so that by the end it feels like one has actually experienced living in the 16th Century (and thankful to be able return to the 21st century with head still connected to the body).
There's plenty of history remaining to be covered when the end of the book is reached. So I think it likely that there will be a sequel.
Below is a short review of Wolf Hall
from PageADay's Book Lover's Calendar for March 2, 2013:
Winner of the 2009 Man Booker Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction, this is a masterful reimagining of the reign of Henry VIII as told through the eyes of one of his closest advisers, Thomas Cromwell. Hardly a hero, Cromwell is, however, a fascinating lens through which to get a totally unsentimental view of Henry’s insistence on getting what he wants. This is for all those fascinated by the Tudors—but more so for their viciousness than their romances.WOLF HALL
, by Hilary Mantel (2009; Picador, 2010)