Wednesday, December 26, 2012

“Wolf Hall” by Hilary Mantel – Bloodlines and Bloodshed

Release date: October 13, 2009
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.
Pages: 560
Amazon(US) |  Amazon(CA) |  Amazon(UK)

In case you aren't familiar with how England worked during the 16th century (and the Middle Ages, for that matter), the king and queen would basically rule over a bunch of lower classes, and as long as there is a clear successor to the throne, things work more or less normally.

However, in Wolf Hall by Hillary Mantel we are being shown the life of Henry VIII, who is fresh out of luck as he cannot seem to give Britain what it wants: a male heir. A lack of a heir would mean that all sorts of crazy people would be able to make a claim for the throne, inevitably plunging the country into a civil war.

The king is trying to rupture his marriage with his current wife, but instead of support finds that the rest of Europe as well as the Vatican frown upon his decision. However, amongst a sea of detractors emerges on man, Thomas Cromwell, an ambitious, charming, brutal, idealistic and opportunistic man, and he takes the king’s side.

Naturally, even with all the evidence we can dig up, finding out how people were living in the past is made up in big part from guesswork and the fact that we have no other sources to take information from save for the few discovered. It is very interesting to see how people can spin the existence of kings, queens, princes, princesses and anyone belonging to the court; apparently, it was a life full of rules and social codes which dictated how a member of the court ought to lead his or her life.

In any case, in this novel Hillary provides with a somewhat "modernized" look at Henry VIII. By modernized, I mean that the story is told in a way so that we, readers of the 21st century, can easily understand and follow the events taking place, we can relate to the characters, their thoughts, feeling and emotions. Unless you are a sucker for historical accuracy, you’ll find a lot of joy in reading this book.

The only thing which threw me off a bit was Mantel’s desire to focus on a million different things at once. I understand that when you are trying to give life to an incredibly complex world, it is hard not to get bogged down with long descriptions and weave new story threads, especially if it all comes together nicely in the end.

If you aren't used to reading books with numerous characters and storylines, then you’ll probably get lost from time to time in here. However, that doesn't mean you won’t be able to enjoy it.

Hilary Mantel (July 6, 1952)

Hilary Mantel (July 6, 1952)

Personal site

Hilary Mantel is an English writer who tackled a number of different domains throughout her career, from personal memoirs to historical fiction pieces. She was the recipient of a Walter Sott Prize, a Costa Novel Prize, and two Man Booker Prizes, the second one of which was earned by her novel Bring Up the Bodies.

More of the Hillary Mantel's book reviews:
Bring Up the Bodies

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