Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
The book is another historical novel, written by another good writer, Hilary Mantel. At first, I borrowed it once or twice from the library but I couldn’t get past the first part, which features young Thomas Cromwell, being beaten by his father. It is not one of the catchier beginnings, so I put the book off.
But then I saw it on the list for 20th-century novel class (which included a few novels from the 21st century as well) and I chose it over Joyce or some other classics. And, since I am writing the review and I said it is written by a good author, you might have figured out that the book gets better after the young Cromwell leaves England.
The second chapter happens 27 years later, when Thomas Cromwell is already back in England and is serving Cardinal Wolsey, As it is obvious by now, the book is happening in Tudor England. It is already when Henry VIII is on the throne and is upset that he does not have any living male children with Catherine of Aragon. He wants Wolsey to find a reason for divorce and Henry is already enamored with Anne Boleyn. There is, as it is usual in historical books, a lot of characters, but the author is kind and lists them by places in which they occur. Thomas More also features quite a lot in the book and his execution is already included in the book.
It mainly deals with the decline of Wolsey, the role of Thomas Cromwell as he rises up in the Tudor court, and with the ascension of Anne Boleyn.
However, a quick warning for anybody that likes Anne Boleyn, she is not represented as a nice person in the book, but more of a witty, scheming and quite pushy person that manages to manipulate pretty much everyone.
It shows Thomas More, who is a saint in the Catholic church as a torturer and someone who is prepared to do pretty much everything to the heretics. Thomas Cromwell, who has an opposite image, as a manipulator, briber, and everything, is presented in a better way. He is not portrayed as a saint, it is obvious that he is not above manipulating and bribing people, but he is not prepared to physically torture people.
To be honest, I have never had a good opinion about More, because, to be honest, I could not understand him. It was necessary to do everything that Henry VIII wanted and More was stubborn, thus condemning himself to death. Cromwell, on the other hand, had more sense and was prepared to do everything to please Henry (which, admittedly, did not end happily for Cromwell either), having learned his lesson from Wolsey’s failure to obtain a divorce and his downfall.
The book portrays everyone in a very believable way, every character has their flaws and their virtues, but it focuses mostly on Cromwell’s life, including his life at Austin Friars, his family, and wards and his increasing influence on Henry and the Tudor court.
The name Wolf Hall is supposed to be taken from the Latin saying that “Man is wolf to man”. But it is also the name of the Seymour family home, thus predicting the future importance of Jane Seymour. The last sentence in the book is “Wolf Hall”, adding it to a list of places that the King’s progress is supposed to visit.
There is also a British series Wolf Hall that follows the story of the book for the first three or four episodes and the last few episodes follow the follow-up book “Bring Up the Bodies”. The third book has yet to be released and is apparently going to deal with last four years of Cromwell’s life.