‘Wolf Hall’ by Hilary Mantel: A Review

Hands up if you have watched the BBC adaptation of The Tudors? If your hand is raised, you need to purchase this book. Rent this book from your local library. Steal this book (okay, don’t do that – but you get the picture). The first two series of The Tudors are encapsulated in Wolf Hall, and it is entirely up to the reader if Jonathan Rhys Meyers is the Henry VIII of choice in your mind’s eye.

If you like historical tales of scandal, deviance and political manipulation: beg, borrow, steal.

I got given this book for Christmas, and until now, have had no time to read the 600 odd pages of Wolf Hall. It is, what you would call, a door stop. But, there is a reason why Hilary Mantel won the acclaimed Man Booker Prize for this novel. People fear historically based novels because they can be dry, factual and date-orientated. Whilst Wolf Hall centres itself around Thomas Cromwell’s rise to power under Henry VIII, it isn’t in a dry tone at all. In fact, the selling point of this novel for me was purely how engaging it was. Looking at the changing Tudor England through the rising, critical eyes of Thomas Cromwell was fascinating. It felt real, I felt immersed. And it was the little facts which really felt authentic – particularly the food and ambiance. I don’t know whether I am a real nerd and my calling in life is to be a food historian, but I just found it fascinating! I mean, the opulence, the extravagance… Thomas Cromwell’s rise from blacksmith’s boy to the second (or, possibly the most) powerful man in England is really demonstrated by his settings and environment. Ambition, brains and occasionally brawn combine to make an incredibly powerful historical character.

I have been told that Wolf Hall isn’t the most factually accurate book regarding Tudor England or Thomas Cromwell. In fact, it has been declared by my historian friend as point-blank historically inaccurate. I think the fact that Hilary Mantel actually spent five years researching this novel would somewhat contradict this. But, overall, what would I say to historical accuracy? I don’t care. I just don’t care. Because the real spark, the most enticing element of this book is the well-rounded dynamic figure of Thomas Cromwell. His life, his relationship with the king and, as a reader, being internalised in his head makes the compelling read that is Wolf Hall.

So, pick up a copy. It looks daunting and huge. History may not appeal to you. However, you will look intellectual, hopefully ignite an interest in the turbulent Tudor era, but more importantly, you will have a cracking good summer read.

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