Review: Wolf Hall

Wolf Hall (Thomas Cromwell, #1)Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a wonderful winter read. It requires commitment. It requires attention. It’s not a read-before-bed book, at least for me.

This book was so beautifully-written. There is a lot more that you could say about it, too, of course, but craft is the main reason I read it, and I was richly rewarded. Here’s a little taste, a jaw-dropping description of the Duke of Norfolk (Anne Boleyn’s uncle):

The duke is now approaching sixty years old, but concedes nothing to the calendar. Flint-faced and keen-eyed, he is lean as a gnawed bone and as cold as an ax head; his joints seem knitted together of supple chain links, and indeed he rattles a little as he moves, for his clothes conceal relics; in tiny jeweled cases he has shavings of skin and snippets of hard, and set into medallions he wears splinters of martyr’s bones.” (150)

I will be studying Mantel’s sentences for some time. Also on the note of craft: the extreme close first-person. Apparently this is a love-it-or-hate-it feature. I am madly in love with it.

I almost hate to bring it up, but I think there are things about this book that would have felt different had I read it before the 45th American president was elected. Henry VIII is a vain, childish narcissist who insists everyone sign a loyalty oath and accept fake facts designed to change the law to suit his whims. Everyone lives in constant fear of upsetting him (though of course, a major difference is that the king can much more easily execute those who upset him). Every once in a while, I would think how it all felt so relevant — not just because of the modern language and sensibilities Mantel provides the characters with.

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