Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Wolf Hall

"Cromwell, what does he really believe?"
It's a question that Anne Boleyn ponders in the book and I suppose it is the question the reader is also posed with. The book is very well researched by the author Hilary Mantel. There is a huge cast of characters involved here, threading their strands into the tangled weave of politics, intrigue and ambition that surrounds the court of King Henry VIII during his courtship and marriage to Anne Boleyn. At the end of it all I didn't feel I knew Thomas Cromwell any better than I did before. There is no doubt that he was a most remarkable and deeply complex man. History is a very slippery thing to write about but compared to trying to get to the heart of an individual, to get inside his mind with any accuracy, it is almost impossible. It's not that easy to achieve face to face, never mind separated by half a millennium through the dusty filter of historian opinions.
The present tense, third person delivery, from the point of view of Cromwell was sometimes a bit of a clunky style for the author to use so rigidly. I lost his stand point on numerous occasions, mostly confusing him for Wolsey. Some conversations were quite hard to follow. Others stand out, crackling with personality and atmosphere e.g. Cromwell's meeting with the King's daughter Mary. The King is pretty much as I would have expected as is Anne Boleyn. I didn't feel we got to grips with Thomas More fully but perhaps this is because we are seeing him from Cromwell's perspective.
All in all, a well written, thoroughly researched book, sometimes let down by its style and the scope of its ambition.

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