This is a wonderful book, the best kind of historical fiction. It tells you a compelling story, makes you feel like you are more-or-less living in their time (intellectually), brings you along to sympathize even identify with the characters in their strange (to us) historical era. The narration is outstanding too. Kudos to the narrator.
My only complaint, a minor one to be sure, is keeping up with the characters, who they are and who they were historically. The book itself (like those old dusty 19th century historical fiction works by Tolstoy and others) has a character list at its front. I took a look at it at the bookstore, then I read some bios on wikipedia to get myself grounded. It helped that I already knew a good deal of 1500s English history, particularly about Henry VIII. So I am going to say with alittle aid like I describe above, readers should not be intimidated by a story that takes place in historical England 500 years ago.
Incidentally, this book won the Booker Prize, and well deserved it. I have already ordered (in book form) a 1990s historical novel by Hilary Mantel.
I read all the reviews saying this book was hard to follow, but since I know something about the history of that period, and since I love good historical fiction (I thoroughly enjoyed Innocent Traitor recently, for example) I thought I would become engrossed in a long and exciting account from Thomas Cromwell's perspective. But it in fact is almost impossible to stay with. It finally dawned on me in Part 2 that when the author used "he" and "him" she was usually referring to Cromwell. I gave up trying to rewind. I wish I could like this book; it's very well written. As others have said, maybe reading it rather than listening to it would have been a better idea.
Wolf Hall is a perfect book. The audiobook is almost perfect. Thomas More's vocal characterization is drippingly evil and snakelike, and it doesn't fit the characterization in the book, which presents more as earnestly fanatical and unexpectedly sly. Several times the narrator confuses the voices, due to the confusing pronouns in the book. He will do a Cromwell voice, for example, when Thomas More is talking.
The Wosley voice is perfect, and Henry sounds regal. Anne, if possible, sounds over-regal, and Chapuys is fun to listen to.
This book is great! An old story told in the clever perspective of Thomas Cromwell. As great as the book is it doesn't compare with the narrator. Simon Slater is a genius. With his voices and inflections he pulls us into 16th century England as if we were living there amidst all the drama and angst.
OK--I was about to stop after listening to it for over half of the narrative, and, looking at the existing reviews, decided to plunge back in to see if I could finish. With that said, it does have some very good moments and it is indeed fascinating, but some of the long passages of dialogue become much like being forced to overhear long and boring conversations . . . I kept losing the thread and wishing there was more detail and more variation of the pace and the structure. But, I'm going 'back in.' I'll add to this review when I finish it to say if the entire experience seemed worth it, overall . . . But, not for the faint of heart!
Very few books totally capture both my imagination and interest, "Wolf Hall" is one of those rare book that does. The story tells of times in Britain's history where a king's marriage, and its legality, based on questions of virginity and "incest" (by marrying your brother's wife), are debated in courts, in pulpits, and in other countries. Intriguing and filled with intrigue, Hilary Mantel's story of the trials of Anne Boleyn, King Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon, as told through the character of Thomas Cromwell weaves an intricate story that is impossible to ignore. Surely the only complaint I can make is that I had to actually pay attention to the story as I listened to it play out! No sentence was superfluous. No introduction of characters without merit. No storyline irrelevant.
Outstanding in every way, I award this book my highest praise. As a persnickety reader and listener, I usually read and listen to books that meet some of my criteria for being worthwhile. This book met all my criteria. Interesting, fast paced, strong women protagonists, great vocabulary, believable story, heart wrenching in some category, a yearning for more, sense of loss when the story ended. Brava to Hilary Mantel, bravo to narrator Simon Slater, bravo to all of us smart enough to read this book!
One of the best stories in history should have been riveting. Although well researched and historically accurate, Mantel's insistence on using personal pronouns without a referent requires constant rereading (rewinding) once the reader figures out who she's talking about. Rather than a stylistic innovation it only comes across as literary affectation that detracts from the readers ability to become engrossed in the narrative. Should have been five stars with a good editor putting her foot down with the author.
Zadie Smith called Hilary Mantel the finest novelist working today, and when you read this you'll know why. Her command of the dense and intricate plot is complete, her dialog scintillating and very funny, and Simon Slater turns maybe the greatest performance of an audiobook since Jeremy Irons read "Lolita." You must read this. In my opinion, the story is better than the sequel "Bring up the Bodies", Simon Slater is MUCH, MUCH more talented than the much lauded Simon Vance. It is criminal that Slater was not selected to do the two sequels to this novel.
Also criminal: ALL of Mantel's other fantastic novels are available on audible.co.uk, but only this and the sequel are available in the US. That's excruciating torment for anybody who's come to love this writing. Audible, step up and get "A Place of Greater Safety" ready for download this month, or allow us to join audible.co.uk!
After reading nothing but great reviews for this series, and loving this period, I bought both books. I thought they were both so boring that I was having a hard time staying attentive. And then the endings were just there. Not the least bit satisfying. Sorry, but I wouldn't recommend this to anyone.
This book had me entranced from the moment it began. I would have loved had I read it - but listening was an even greater pleasure, the narrator Simon Slater has a wonderful voice and cadence. The characters are beautifully drawn, though I don't know how accurately, I want more! I hope Mantel follows King Henry and Cromwell forward in another book soon!