Sunday, January 6, 2013

Recent Reads


Mantel's big, multi-faceted, densely populated novel centers on and is seen from the point of view of Thomas Cromwell, the blacksmith's son who rose from exceedingly humble beginnings to become the most powerful man in England, except, of course, for Henry VIII, whom he served. 

When I was in my early teens, I read historical novels almost exclusively. And at least half of these novels were set in Tudor England -- beginning with Ann of a Thousand Days -- a sympathetic (heartbreaking) portrayal of Ann Boleyn.  So this is familiar ground for me, as far as the broad outlines of 'what happened.'

But Wolf Hall is a real departure from all those romantic depictions, usually accompanied by an omniscient narrative voice that ensures the reader is learning a little history along with enjoying the story. On the contrary, Mantel plops us straight into  Thomas Cromwell's point of view and we learn as he does and through his eyes and ears, just what sort of world this is.

At first I found it like waking up in another time or place -- with no sign posts. In fact, the first few pages were hard going --  who are these people and why are there so many Thomases?  But the immediacy of the experience and the sensory surround effect began to enthrall me and I kept reading. As familiar names began to appear -- Cardinal Wolsey, Great Harry himself, Queen Catherine, Ann Boleyn, Thomas More -- it all fell into place and I raced through the pages, eager to see how the Divorce was handled.

If I'd taken a few moments before beginning the book to remind myself of the main points of Thomas Cromwell's history, I wouldn't have been quite so lost at first.Of course I'll read it again to savor more thoroughly the masterful writing.  I expect I'll enjoy it even more.  It is truly a remarkable piece of writing -- I can't think of anything comparable.

Go HERE for Joan Acocella's review of Wolf Hall in The New Yorker.  It does contain 'spoilers' but only if you're not already somewhat familiar with the history of  Henry VIII.
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10 comments:

Ms. A said...

Anything historical is pretty much over my head, especially if there are a lot of characters to keep up with. I always feel like I'm going to be tested, and fail.

katy gilmore said...

Ah Ha - I assume you will be moving along smartly to the utterly delicious "Bring Up The Bodies!! Mantel is a master - we are so lucky.

Martin said...

It's a landmark piece of work, in my opinion. I haven't moved on to 'Bring Up the Bodies', yet, but it's on the list. Mantel's writing can leave you feeling quite intoxicated. Cheers!

Vagabonde said...

I enjoyed your post. I just published a post on my readings. While growing up I did not read English history like you, there was too much French history to take in, so I stayed away from the rest of Europe’s history but I like British authors. It is great to find a book that really sweeps you.

Brenda said...

I always enjoy reading about the books others enjoy, and why. I need a good long book to read now as I huddle under a quilt and try to get over a cold!

jennyfreckles said...

I have it but I find it hard going to be honest. I can never work out who's saying what. Perhaps if I read it in longer chunks it might carry me along. It is undeniably a first class work though.

Brian Miller said...

intriguing...i will have to look this book up, if for no other reason than your praise of how it was written

Crafts4others said...

I purchased this and can't wait to get started on this series. I love reading about the Tudors.

Vicki Lane said...

I definitely will be moving on to BRING UP THE BODIES -- even though I know what happens.

Jennyfreckles -- I felt the same at first. And I believe that the longer chunks approach would help.

FOLKWAYS NOTEBOOK said...

Your review in enticing. Perhaps I will have to read this part of history this year. Hope my library will buy it for their stacks. -- barbara