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Wolf Hall: A Novel [Hardcover]

Hilary Mantel
3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (49 customer reviews)

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Most helpful customer reviews
54 of 56 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Just remember to pace yourself.... Oct. 25 2009
By Misfit TOP 500 REVIEWER
Author Hilary Mantel gives the reader a new take on that oft told tale of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn by showing it through the eyes of Thomas Cromwell, who despite humble beginnings was able to raise himself very high while aiding Henry VIII to rid himself of Katherine of Aragon in "The King's Great Matter", as well as his involvement in the Reformation and destruction of the monasteries and abbeys (to his own great gain). I think most of us have read enough about Henry and his six wives and know the basics, as well as enough reviewers have come before me so I don't need to rehash it all again. I'm just here to give my two cents on the book.

While I did enjoy a fresh take on this period, seeing it through the eyes of Cromwell, as well as seeing him interact with his wife, children and other family members, I did find the present tense very distracting and I had a difficult time getting started. Frankly, I picked up (and finished) four different books in between periods working on this one - although one covering the same period helped me a great deal as it served as a *refresher course* on who and what Cromwell was.

I found I couldn't read it during the work week at the end of the day when my brain was tired as well as on weekends when it was getting too close to bedtime - I put it down and read something lighter. That said, by the time I hit page 150 or so I was enjoying it a great deal and eventually I wasn't bothered the present tense at all, nor the excessive use of referring to Cromwell as "he" (it will drive you nuts at first).

I've seen this book described as a "rich meaty stew" and that's pretty much how I approached it, I took it in small bites over several weeks instead of gorging myself all at once and getting heartburn (reader burnout).
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Wolf Hall: A Passport back in Time June 8 2013
Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel is a passport taking you 500 years into the past to follow the career of Thomas Cromwell, son of a common smith, who we meet first as a child fleeing his abusive father. Mantel skips over the years when Cromwell is by turns soldier, traveller, merchant and student, during which he learns courage, cunning, half a dozen languages including Latin and Greek, and a shrewd grasp of the law -- all of which lead to his becoming right hand man to Cardinal Wolsey, who is the most powerful man in England, excepting only Henry, who he serves devotedly.

Henry VIII is secure on his throne, but he lacks a male heir. His first wife, Katherine of Aragon, has produced a daughter, Mary, but Henry needs a son. Henry turns to Wolsey to get him a divorce.

Mantel takes us into the family feuds, the political intrigues, the international machinations and the theological debates of the Reformation that all tangle together as Cromwell serves Wolsey, and Wolsey serves the king. Henry needs to overturn the Pope's ruling that allowed him to marry his brother's widow Katherine, so that he can put her aside and marry Ann Boleyn with whom Henry has fallen in love. Wolsey fails, is disgraced and dies, but Cromwell goes on to engineer the events that lead to Henry's marriage to Ann, the birth of their daughter who will be Elizabeth I, and the establishment of the Church of England headed by Henry.

In Mantel's account, Cromwell is a church-going agnostic, pragmatically aware of the power of faith in the life and politics of his time. He is a political fixer, strategist and designer of laws. He is essentially the first English civil servant: neither a churchman nor a member of the nobility.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars My second time through Jan. 6 2011
I originally borrowed this from the library, as a new book with a 2-week loan period (no renewals). I got to page 500-and-something before I had to relinquish it back to the long line of waiting cheapskates.

So I finally broke down and bought it, and realized that I needed to start from the beginning.

And I am glad I did.

I've read the negative reviews - too hard to read, the story wanders, sometimes you can't tell who's talking. Yes, it's a challenging read. But most worthwhile pursuits are difficult; if we could all win at Wimbledon, it wouldn't be much of an accomplishment.

Typically, the greater the effort, the greater the reward, and Wolf Hall is no exception. I will say that, as someone born in the 60's, who reads, on average, a book or more a week, this is by far the best (fiction) book I've ever read. Ever.

And it's not because I am fascinated by this period of English history - I have no interest in King Henry VIII, Anne Boleyn, or Cardinal Wolsey. I watched a couple of episodes of the first season of the Tudors before my attention wandered.

It's the semi-stream-of-consciousness writing, elaborately and perfectly fleshed out with details. Each character is fully inhabited and perfectly expressed by the author. As I read Wolf Hall, I often stopped and pondered what I had just read in disbelief. How could someone could be so imaginative and creative as to write it, and express it in such an elegant and simple way?

Read it slowly, and carefully, and it may become the best book you've ever read as well.
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Most recent customer reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars A long hard slog, with interesting and illustrious material ...
A long hard slog, with interesting and illustrious material. Shines a strong light on the manners of the period, the philosophy and psychology of the royalties and their... Read more
Published 6 days ago by Ray Guy
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
Will have lots to discuss at Thursdays book club season opener. Just have 200 pages more to go
Published 1 month ago by TRISH
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
Published 2 months ago by DOROTHY CARMICHAEL
1.0 out of 5 stars This was a slog.
I did not enjoy this book. I felt like I was plodding through the story and was forcing myself to read.
Published 5 months ago by Connie Flett
5.0 out of 5 stars Review of Wolf Hall
Loved it. Thomas Cromwell is an exceptional and interesting person and we see the events of Henry VIII times through Cromwell's experiences - a refreshing change. Read more
Published 6 months ago by Ora Wood
3.0 out of 5 stars Good English History but quite deep
The story is quite deep for me, and so many characters.
I love history but I guess I need something a little lighter.
Published 7 months ago by DECampbell
5.0 out of 5 stars Absolutely Fabulous
This is one off the best (if not the best) historical fiction I've ever read. The research was flawless and the writing superb. The Tudor era is a fascinating one.
Published 7 months ago by A. Nonny Mouse
5.0 out of 5 stars fantastic!
Amazing feat of writing. Cromwell comes to life as a real human, a genius, aware of so much, but what is ultimately being woven around him. Brilliant!
Published 13 months ago by G. Yun
5.0 out of 5 stars Great book
This was recommended to me, I read it , ordered the sequel, ordered the sequel to Wolf Hall, now waiting for the sequel to Bring up the Bodies. Read more
Published 16 months ago by russ major
5.0 out of 5 stars Wolf Hall
I was given this book when it was first published but I had lent it and not got it back and so this was a replacement - it's a terrific read.
Published 19 months ago by Richard Holland
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