National Book Critics Circle, Fiction, 2010
Man Booker Prize, Fiction, 2009
In the ruthless arena of King Henry VIII's court, only one man dares to gamble his life to win the king's favor and ascend to the heights of political powerEngland in the 1520s is a heartbeat from disaster. If the king dies without a male heir, the country could be destroyed by civil war. Henry VIII wants to annul his marriage of twenty years, and marry Anne Boleyn. The pope and most of Europe opposes him. The quest for the king's freedom destroys his adviser, the brilliant Cardinal Wolsey, and leaves a power vacuum. Into this impasse steps Thomas Cromwell. Cromwell is a wholly original man, a charmer and a bully, both idealist and opportunist, astute in reading people and a demon of energy: he is also a consummate politician, hardened by his personal losses, 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? In inimitable style, Hilary Mantel presents a picture of a half-made society on the cusp of change, where individuals fight or embrace their fate with passion and courage.
With a vast array of characters, overflowing with incident, the novel re-creates an era when the personal and political are separated by a hairbreadth, where success brings unlimited power but a single failure means death.
The program includes a pdf containing a cast of characters and family tree.
©2009 Hilary Mantel; (P)2009 Macmillan Audio
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Life long compulsive reader & lover of recorded books
I think what this book offers is too rich to summarize in three words. I read this book when it was first published and recently again in preparation for the BBC series based on it now showing through PBS. Hillary Mantel channels Cromwell...we enter the world of the Tudors as an extremely bright and talented son of a blacksmith who manages to climb to the highest spheres of power in a world where social mobility was not even a concept..so there is no doubt of the fact that Cromwell must have been an exceptional man although this is a fictionalized account of Tudor life through his eyes. Many have said that they were confused by the first person narration...I did not find it particularly disturbing.
The furor over Wolf Hall is justified probably because it is quite different from everything else out there. This is even different that other works by Hillary Mandel (who is one of my favorite writers). The only book that I can compare it to is its sequel, "Bring up the Bodies" which is just as good and some think better. Hillary Mantel seems to take specific snippets of history which are known to have happened (perhaps that on such and such a day Cromwell and Henry were seen chatting by a specific window at such and such a castle) and weave a tight net of dialogue and action to fill the spaces around it and spring from it.
This narration was very good although Simon Vance was superior as the narrator of "Bring up the Bodies"
All the characters here, Mary and Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour, King Henry, Cardinal Wolsey, are presented by the writer as fully formed, difficult to forget individuals. Of course, Cromwell is the most memorable by far. I found Henry Tudor somewhat elusive in Wolf Hall...but he is developed further in Bring up the Bodies.
This is required reading for all fans of Tudor fiction. If you are going to watch the television series you do not necessarily have to read the book...but you will enjoy watching the characters jump from page to screen. This may be one of my favorite reads of all times.
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!
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!
I was halfway through part 2 of this 3-part book before I got comfortable with it. If you stick with it, you'll probably enjoy it. The author made is a more difficult read/listen than it needed to be, by refusing to use any attribution for quotes other than "he said" -- or nothing at all. When there are 3 men talking, it's hard to determine who said what. The narrator did a pretty good job of differentiating the various characters, but lack of attribution didn't help the flow of the story. And it's written in the present tense, which I found annoying (it was 500 years ago). That being said, this is an interesting and sympathetic portrayal of Thomas Cromwell, who is usually shown as one of the major villains of Henry VII's reign. It also shows Thomas More in a less-than-saintly light. The story only takes us to More's execution, so doesn't show Cromwell's eventual downfall.
If you're interested in this period, you'll find the book worthwhile. If Tudor England is new to you, I'd advise starting somewhere else.
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