Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Review: 'Wolf Hall' by Hilary Mantel

This might have been one of the quickest reads I have ever done, considering the circumstances and everything else I had to/wanted to do. I found out on a Friday that I had to read this book for the next lecture on Monday, barely read anything on the Saturday. Thankfully on Monday we were told we had to finish it by the next week, which was especially good for everyone else because the bookstore on campus had run out of copies and during the weekend so had loads of bookstores in Nottingham. On Monday I promised a friend she could borrow my copy so I sped through it and finished it by Wednesday.

First of all, this is a very long book, almost too long considering the period it covers. As a subject, Mantel has chosen Thomas Cromwell, the man that is seen as responsible for the Reformation, Anne Boleyn becoming Queen and Henry VIII turning into a despot. Historically speaking, he is despised. Some see him as the devil, during his life and now. Strangely enough, Mantel achieves the near impossible. She made me like Cromwell, a historical character I had slightly despised before that. Here he had a compassionate side and seemed a family man. What was also interesting to read about was his ascent to power. This is where the next point comes in.

Hilary Mantel seems to have a penchant for long descriptions of things that, at the first glance, might seem pointless. I will admit to the sin of having skipped one or two, or three, yet as the novel progressed I started to see the use of these descriptions. Cromwell slowly becomes more and more powerful and his attributes slowly increase as well. The effect of this is that when he moves house, we get a long description of all his belongings. The same thing happens to Cardinal Wolsey. When he is kicked out of his house there is a long description of all his belongings that now belong to the king and we see how closely reputation was linked to wealth and how the loss of either means the loss of the other.

Throughout the novel there is reference to the meeting between King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. The Biblical account of their meeting is that the Queen visits Solomon after having heard of his great wisdom. First it belonged to Wolsey, then it passes on to the King who then gives it to Cromwell, where it remains throughout the rest of the novel. In Sheba, Cromwell sees a previous lover and she is also compared to Anne Boleyn. I am still puzzling over the exact meaning of the tapestry and the imagery in itself. It wasn't the one to the right.

Overall, I quite liked this book. There is a massive difference in attitude if you have to read a book for a course or whether you pick it up out of free will. I did think to myself last year that maybe I should read this one as we looked at it during high school. I don't regret reading it and think that I might actually pick up the sequel, 'Bring Up The Bodies', which hopefully isn't quite as big. I give this book...


It is a masterly book that clearly took a lot of imagination and dedication. Although it almost killed me to keep reading at some times, Mantel shows herself as a great author by being able to keep the reader interested in a character after 600 pages. We haven't even reached Cromwell at his most powerful, yet we like him and want to know more. I definitely recommend this to anyone who likes the Tudor reign and isn't afraid of big books. Perhaps, if you're a fan of Anne Boleyn this isn't your book.


  1. Hi Juli,
    Hat off to you -I got this 'tome' last christmas and still not finished! That said, I love Mantel's writing and I love the book. Enjoyed your review. You're clearly an excellent speed reader and deserve a medal. All the best,


  2. I love that time period in history. The scandal in the Tudor court is one that intrigues no matter what point of view it is from.

    I completely agree that your attitude changes about book that you were assigned to read versus books you just picked up yourself. I used to always find out the reading list for a class ahead of time (if possible) and read the novels at my own speed so that I could enjoy the novel instead of being forced to read a section at a time and analyze it for class.

  3. Great review, I bought this one at a library sale for 25 cents a couple years ago but haven't worked up the nerve to read it yet. It's such a big book that I haven't had the time to read it with the blog being so busy this year. Great review though it absolutely has me even more intrigued!
    -Kimberly @ Turning the Pages

  4. I was surprised by how readable this book is and how fast it moves for such a long book. Although I'm a fan of Anne Boleyn, I did really like this book-I thought her portrayal was really interesting even if not fawning.