National Book Critics Circle, Fiction, 2010
Man Booker Prize, Fiction, 2009
Tudor England. Henry VIII is on the throne, but has no heir. Cardinal Wolsey is charged with securing his divorce. Into this atmosphere of distrust comes Thomas Cromwell - a man as ruthlessly ambitious in his wider politics as he is for himself. His reforming agenda is carried out in the grip of a self-interested parliament and a king who fluctuates between romantic passions and murderous rages.
©2009 Hilary Mantell; (P)2009 WF Howes Ltd
This is an extraordinary book written by an extraordinary writer. I read first the print version, but found myself at times lost in the story telling - now who is speaking - now whose story is being told. This audible version brings the characters to life wonderfully and adds a depth to the story. I give the narrator, Simon Slater, five stars also.
Eclectic mixer of books of my youth and ones I always meant to read, but didn't.
I have literally just finished listening to this wonderful work, part novel, part history, part biography and wholly a revelation. It is difficult to comprehend how the well traveled road of Henry VIII, the Boylens, Thomas More, Wolsey and others could be given a new perspective. Ms Mantel has done just that, and from the point of view of the apparently least sympathetic character, Thomas Cromwell. Of course we all know how it ends, but that is in part the genius of the narrative. Even knowing that, the story presents itself, in the true sense, as novel. I was not tempted to the dictionary with regularity nor to the history books. Because the history is well know, the essentials don't need to be cross-checked (as they often have to with other historical novels). The incidentals don't press you to be checked (because they illuminate the characters in preference to the events).
I particularly like the seeming transition from the third person to the first person that the author has employed with great skill. Through it, and the simple device of capturing the day to day, she conveys what some other historical novelists miss: the inner character of the historical figures. For example, whereas Thomas More's martyrdom seems like the hallmark of his struggle with Henry, as an event for Cromwell it is much more. Cromwell respects and disrespects More in proportion, but he hates that great thinkers must be sacrificed. Yet sacrifice is the artifice of government. That dilemma for Cromwell is palpable from the narrative. For all that, the language is simple throughout, reflecting a Protestant value true to Cromwell's aspiration. It also reflects with wonderful eloquence a simpler time when there was a right and a wrong (although they could change overnight at the monarch's whim); England in the 1530s. I was tempted to keep reading, moving to the second in the trilogy at once. I have resisted only to make that reading even more auspicious.
As to the performance by Simon Slater, I think him the perfect selection to read this work. His voices were attuned to each character, particularly Cromwell and More. The stretch narrative was conveyed at a lovely pace. I am pleased to see he has also read a version of the sequel. It is on my Wish List.
In my opinion, Ms Mantel deserved the Man-Booker Prize for this work and readers of good books deserve to have books of this quality win prestigious awards.
Never has a book so nearly given me the impression of looking out of the eyes of another human being. The Thomas Cromwell depicted in this nearly perfect novel is a complex, real man, the product of his upbringing and his society, shaped by tragedies and triumphs as narrow in scope as his brilliantly drawn household and as broad as all Christendom, and himself the shaper of a whole new England - one that would in due course change the world forever.
Slater's narration is also simply magical. He gives each character his or her (and there are many significant hers) own voice, manner and personality. I swore when I learned that the sequel is not narrated by him, because I wanted desperately for this astonishing experience to continue seamlessly for the length of another novel. At least.
The rating I have given is not accustomed hyperbole - in half a dozen reviews this is my first 5/5/5 stars, and richly deserved for the delight I have had over the last few days. Enjoy.
This was my first time listening to a novel on my I-Pod, and I was thrilled and totally satisfied. When the novel, which is lengthy, came to a conclusion, I almost found myself crying with disappointment. I can't wait to hear when the sequel to 'Wolf Hall' is published.
I wanted to love this, but despite many efforts over at least 15 hours I can't even like it. There is absolutely no emotional involvement in any of the characters nor the story. It would be like reading the driest newspaper article summing up the events, which isn't what I would expect of a novel, if it weren't for the laboured construction that made it much more inaccessible and frankly uninteresting.
And I tried. I read the first third on my Kindle, but kept falling asleep (has only ever happened with the ridiculously bad Fifty shades of Grey). Switched to the audio book hoping that a lively narration would bring the characters to life and thus start to matter, in any way, to me. It didn't.
As I read it for a book club I persisted, but a little over half way through I gave up. I just couldn't bring myself to give it another eleven hours of my life. Out of the six serious book nerds in my book club I was the one who got the farthest, by far. One, who is extremely interested in Henry VIII, had finished and thought it dry and uninvolving, but we soon realised she had unwittingly listened to an abridged version of eight hours. That's one third of the original book's length. She said she'd never ever spend over 24 hours of reading time on the full version. The book club even reads quite a bit of award winning lit, many of my favourites are Pulitzer winners for instance, so it's not a question of that.
I even tried reading it just to explore the construction, but that didn't grab my interest either. To me, this is simply a boring book.
Superb, Brilliant, Worth the Man Booker win
Nothing, it is one of the best historical fictions i have ever come across, Ken Follett came close years ago but this is magic. The characters are alive, every voice is perfect. Even when the narrator draws breath you know which character it is. The historical detail and the tiniest events mentioned are all covered and closed off. I think half the women who read this will fall for Thomas Cromwell.
So many but I found the detail about the rituals of Easter and Thomas Cromwell advising on cooking a real hoot. The tortue scenes are fascinating without being gross and the history is detailed without being boring - and for once - interesting
Yes, I could not stop recommending it to people - after 5 years of book club this one stole the show
Now onto Bring up the Bodies and I am loving it already.
What a pleasure this book is to listen to. Wonderful narration. Highly recommended. Draws you in to the period and provides a nuanced view of Cromwell.
The descriptions and the characters. I loved learning about Cromwell and the time he lived in
Bring up the Bodies. Both excellent.
Here is a man that rose to one of the most influential positions in the English court from nothing. Fascinating. From a life of abject poverty and cruelty. Fascinating. This book chronicles the rise of Thomas Cromwell. I loved it.
Must read both. Fabulous.
"A worthy challenge."
I wasn’t finding this a particularly easy book to read (or at least to listen to) until I was about halfway through. Then something clicked, and I realised what it was about the writing that felt strange: there’s no plot - or should I say that the plot is so old and well known that the author doesn’t bother with it. The characters are real people from our past and their life stories are history: set in stone, in a thousand textbooks, their fates are already decided, even if it's only us - the readers - that know it. And Hilary Mantel presumes we do, and so, freed from twisting and shaping a plot, she concentrates on their language: their thoughts and inner voices; the words they might have spoken; even their body language is used to take us deep into their lives and motivations, and Hilary Mantel certainly can write. Whether it’s Thomas More intellectualising his inhumanity or a coarse fisherman going on about some prostitutes her writing is fluid and believable.
Thomas Cromwell was unknown to me before I started Wolf Hall but now I’ve got the feeling that he’s going to stay with me as one of the great (non?) fictional historical characters. (I don’t know, or really care, if this is a true portrait of Thomas Cromwell, but the author made a great decision by putting him at the heart of this pivotal moment in history.)
He’s a wonderfully complex man: his fidelity to his friends, family, masters and ideals contrasts with the ruthlessness of his politics; his drive to free England of the shackles of Rome is bizarrely made possible by the whims of his King, and he accepts this and uses it; and most of all, his comfortableness with the commoners combines beautifully with his ability to motivate and manipulate his betters.
The narrator - Simon Slater - gives every character their own distinctive voice and he adds depth, menace or lightness as needed. So, overall, not an easy read but a beautiful and worthy challenge.
"Lose yourself in 16th century England"
Well, we all know the story of Henry VIII and his wives, so this book had to deliver something different to keep my attention for 24 hours of listening - and for me, it did. The story is told through the eyes of Thomas Cromwell, as he progresses from the gutter in Putney to hold high office in the King's court. There is a wealth of historical detail and a constant undercurrent of political intrigue. Occasionally, Hilary Mantel slips into some loose writing and a bit of self indulgence as she wanders from the story but for me, the star of the show is the narrator, Simon Slater. He has the ability to wrap the story around the listener, breathing life into the characters with a wide range of colour and inflexion to go with the different voices and accents he employs. Far from the saintly man portrayed in 'A Man For All Seasons', Thomas More is characterised as an arrogant cynic, and Slater's voice drips with comtempt and disdain as he speaks his words. I'm not usually one for 'literary' works, crime and thrillers being my regular listening, but I have to say this was such a good story, so well told, it had me spellbound all the way through. I usually listen while walking my dogs and their walks got longer as I just wanted to hear a little bit more... Other reviews are mixed, so I guess the only way to really find out if you'll like it is to try it. By the way, Wolf Hall is the home of Jane Seymour, setting up a sequel, I hope!
This is a long, rich complex historical novel and for many people this unabridged audio version will be an excellent way to get to know such a lengthy work. But some caution may be necessary . Simon Slater reads the basic narrative well and gives a gripping portrayal of Thomas Cromwell, the main focus of interest in this account of the reign of Henry VIII to 1535. But although he is clearly aware of the necessity of some differentiation for other important characters, his solutions are not always convincing and fail to do justice to the subtlety and detail of Hilary Mantel's writing :Cardinal Wolsey sounds dimwitted, Thomas More - far from a saintly character in this novel- sounds sly and slimy and the old nobility blustering idiots. In each case there is an element of truth in the portrayal but they come across too often as cardboard cut-outs.
Most readers will also find that they will need to have or to acquire a good knowledge of Early Tudor history to appreciate fully what Hilary Mantel is attempting in this book. There is much fascinating detail and insight to enjoy but in the end I was left feeling the book could profitably have been more tautly focussed and better structured ? it seems to peter out rather than reach a proper closure -is a sequel intended?
Certainly then on the whole a worthwhile audiobook but be prepared for a text that is occasionally self indulgent ? repetitious and over detailed ? and a reading that is enjoyable but unconvincing and inadequate in places.
"Best audio book I've bought so far."
This book was an extremely worthy winner of the Man Booker prize and Simon Slater's reading of it only served to enhance the story. He represented each of the characters in a very individual way and each had their own style of speech and intonation meaning that I really got a feel for the character behind the words. I thoroughly enjoyed the colourful and inventive curses uttered by various players and the droll way in which Simon represented Cardinal Wolsely. I would heartily recommend this title.
"History brought to life"
It's a very long listen but enjoyed every hour of it. Excellently read by Simon Slater who skilfully gives the many different characters distinctive voices that helps with identification. The book covers a relatively short, but tumultuous period of Henry VIIIth reign during which he agonizes over getting a divorce from Katherine of Aragon and marries Anne Bolyne. It's a familiar period of history, but, for me, what was most interesting was the different slant on the story in that it is told from the point of view of Thomas Cromwell: usually a demonized figure in history, I found him a much more complex and more humane character than I had previously believed. Conversely, my image of Sir Thomas More, based on the film and play "A Man for all Seasons", has been shifted to think him less than saintly in his relentless pursuit of those he deemed to be heretics and over-weaningly self-righteous.
The book brought this period of history to life for me in the characterization of the main players and the atmosphere and religious tensions of Tudor England. It's also a salutary reminder of how cruel and barbaric this country was in the treatment of prisoners in the not too distant past.
"Voice characterisations are too similar"
I managed to listen to 2 hours and 7 minutes before I had had enough.
The style of writing is quirky, so I imagine that it would be a challenge to narrate this really well. In fact the narrator does quite well with all the background stuff, its just the character voices that are not working at all. Twice in 2 hours I've not realised that a conversation between person A and B has turned into chat between A and C. This is entitely due to the voice characterisations being so similar to one another.
"Wonderful book and superb reading"
I have read prize winning books before and have been sadly disappointed so, although I was strongly interested in this book, I decided to get it as an audiobook first, just in case. I loved it so much I have now bought the book too.
I did find I was confused at first about who all the people were, as without the hard copy of the book you don't get the cast of characters but that didn't spoil my enjoyment as I just let it wash over me and all became clear.
This book gives another perspective on the stories many of us have heard and Cromwell is usually just portrayed as the two dimensional villain of the piece, almost the only real villain.
This on the other hand sets him within a world where there was so much turmoil and self-seeking and gives a wonderfully realised portrait of the man as he might have been, for all we know. The book doesn't avoid the actions Cromwell is known for but they are there if you look, placed into the context of a time of great upheaval and cruelty and a King who hardly knew from one year to the next what he wanted.
I think the reading is superb and like another reviewer I have looked for other books read by Simon Slater, unfortunately none so far but I do hope he will read more.
The characterisation was just right for characters such as Cardinal Wolsey (who apparently had an impish sense of humour) and Thomas More, rather a cruel man as distinct from his sainted image in other portrayals.
But the real triumph is the voice of Cromwell himself, the loving family man, gentle and considerate to others whom he respects (or pities like Catherine of Aragon or even, eventually, Thomas More), funny at times, sometimes silkily seductive, always in control in public even when he is grieving. It's also a very detailed performance, the voice of Cromwell changes from the lost but self-contained boy to bruiser to diplomat and even charmer over the course of the reading.
One word, superb.
This is one Audible purchase that I think I would have preferred to read than listen to. The characters are fascinating, but my enjoyment of them and of the story was spoiled by the unnecessarily malevolent or just plain unpleasant tone of many of the 'voices' employed by the narrator. Thomas More sounded particularly evil, and I found it difficult to warm to Cromwell himself because of his harsh voice. A shame, as my previous experiences of your readers has been very positive.
"Great book poorly read"
Loved the book in spite of the reader - his irritating tone and failure to distinguish characters effectively almost made me give up listening. His reading does a great disservice to this fascinating novel.
"A worthy winner brilliantly read"
There is a reason that some books win prizes. Wolf Hall is a worthy winner of this year's Man Booker Prize. It takes us through the life of Thomas Cromwell in a lively and insightful way. Hilary Mantel helps us to understand the time and tensions of Henry's court and the life of an individual who makes good.
The book is a worthy winner of it's accolades.
Now to the reader. After listening to hundreds of audio books over the last 20 years I find that the quality of the reading is crucial in my enjoyment of any book. The reader can make an average story or make it impossible to listen to a great book.
The most important things are the differentiation of character's voices, the consistency of those voices and the rhythm and pace of the reading.
In all these areas Simon Slater succeeds with a gold star.
His choice of voices are all effective from the point of view of the main character. So, for example, Thomas More is oily as Cromwell would have perceived him. The pace is varied and builds the story well, creating tension and allowing calming periods to relax back into the story.
When I hear a reader I enjoy I look for other books they have read and was amazed to find that this is the only book, read by Simon Slater, which Audible have available.
If this is really his first reading then it is magnificent. If he pursues reading audio books then maybe we have a new Martin Jarvis in the making.
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