Sunday, 6 February 2011

Wolf Hall

Finally finished Wolf Hall by Hillary Mantell the other day.

I say "finally" because, my word, that was a slog.
It's not that there's anything wrong with the book, though when the protagonist (Thomas Cromwell) is referred to constantly throughout as "He" and never "Cromwell" or "Thomas", or by any other identifying marker (save, I think twice, in the final few chapters) it can get a bit confusing at times. I just wasn't really gripped by it.
It's a beautifully crafted novel, from an objective standpoint, and I can see why it won the critical acclaim that it did. There are good bits; watching Mary Boleyn packing to leave court, the presence of Mr "Call me Rissly" Wriothsley, the fabrics and tapestries, the amount of remembered detail; and it develops, and gets better as it goes along. But since I already know quite a lot about Tudor History, I just didn't feel like this book was bringing anything new, or telling me anything I didn't already know. And taking a very long time, and a slightly obfuscatory style to do it. I never really got 'into' it. I was never there with the characters. It was hard work to finish.

Maybe I'm just spoiled by Phillipa Gregory. Her novels, by comparison, are much more active and pacy, and the characters feel more fully rounded. You don't feel like there's this vast maw of history between us and then; historical sensibilities feel natural - these are real people with real desires, just like ours. With Mantel, I never feel like I have an inside view on anyone's head - not even Cromwell's. He's just this dark, brooding presence, always calculating, brooding, never feeling, hardly human. I couldn't empathise for a minute.

I think overall it's a good book, but not necessarily one I'd recommend to a friend. If you want something Tudor, something sexy and gripping and full of action and life, read The Other Boleyn Girl. Which is what I'm doing next.