Publisher: Fourth Estate
Length: 674 pages
About: Caridnal Wolsley clashes with Thomas Cromwell
Style: 1st & 3rd person
'Lock Cromwell in a deep dungeon in the morning,' says Thomas More, 'and when you come back that night he'll be sitting on
a plush cushion eating larks' tongues, and all the gaolers will owe him money.' England, the 1520s. Henry VIII is on the throne, but has no heir. Cardinal Wolsey is his chief advisor, charged with
securing the divorce the pope refuses to grant. Into this atmosphere of distrust and need comes Thomas Cromwell, first as Wolsey's clerk, and later his successor. Cromwell is a wholly original man:
the son of a brutal blacksmith, a political genius, a briber, a charmer, a bully, a man with a delicate and deadly expertise in manipulating people and events. Ruthless in pursuit of his own
interests, he is as ambitious in his wider politics as he is for himself. His reforming agenda is carried out in the grip of a self-interested parliament and a king who fluctuates between romantic
passions and murderous rages. From one of our finest living writers, 'Wolf Hall' is that very rare thing: a truly great English novel, one that explores the intersection of individual psychology and
wider politics. With a vast array of characters, and richly overflowing with incident, it peels back history to show us Tudor England as a half-made society, moulding itself with great passion,
suffering and courage.
After Kat had finished swabbing him and Morgan Williams had ceased boasting and reconstructing the assault, he lay up for an hour or two, to recover from it. During this time, Walter came to the
door, with some of his acquaintance, and there was a certain amount of shouting and kicking of doors, though it came to him in a muffled way and he thought he might have dreamed it. The question in
his mind is, what am I going to do, I can’t stay in Putney. Partly this is because his memory is coming back, for the day before yesterday and the earlier fight, and he thinks there might have been a
knife in it somewhere; and whoever it was stuck in, it wasn’t him, so was it by him? All this is unclear in his mind. What is clear is his thought about Walter: I’ve had enough of this. If he gets
after me again I’m going to kill him, and if I kill him they’ll hang me, and if they’re going to hang me I want a better reason.
Wolf Hall succeeds on its own terms and then some, both as a non-frothy historical novel and as a display of Mantel's extraordinary talent. Lyrically yet cleanly and tightly written, solidly
imagined yet filled with spooky resonances, and very funny at times, it's not like much else in contemporary British fiction.
Christopher Tayler, The Guardian, 2 May 2009
Not so good:
This is a burstingly large book, so densely peopled that the cast-list alone takes up five pages. It rattles back and forth across the Channel and reaches, sometimes confusingly, back through
time. Much of Cromwell's past is told in flashbacks - somnolent, slippery sequences that add to the novel's dreamlike sense. For all her meticulous historical reconstruction, Mantel's world remains a
strange place, permeated by the many dead. None the less, it is both linguistically and sensually vital, stacked with images and phrases that linger in the mind.
Olivia Laing, The Observer, 26 April 2009
About the author
Born 6 July 1952 in Glossop, Derbyshire, the eldest of three children, and raised in the mill village of Hadfield, attending St Charles local Roman Catholic primary school. Her parents, Margaret
and Henry Thompson, both of Irish descent, were also born in England.Her parents separated and she did not see her father after age eleven. The family minus her father, but with Jack Mantel
(1932-1995) who by now had moved in with them, relocated to Romiley, Cheshire, and Jack became her unofficial stepfather. She took her de-facto stepfather's surname legally. She attended Harrytown
Convent in Romiley, Cheshire.
In 1970 she began her studies at the London School of Economics to read law. She transferred to the University of Sheffield and graduated as Bachelor of Jurisprudence in 1973. After
university, Mantel worked in the social work department of a geriatric hospital, and then as a sales assistant in a department store. In 1972 she married Gerald McEwen, a geologist. In 1974 she began
writing a novel about the French Revolution, which was later published as A Place of Greater Safety. In 1977 Mantel moved to Botswana with her husband. Later they spent four years in Jeddah, Saudi
Arabia. She published a memoir of this time, Someone to Disturb, in the London Review of Books. She later said that leaving Jeddah felt like "the happiest day of [her] life.”
During her twenties, Mantel suffered from a debilitating and painful illness. She was initially diagnosed with a psychiatric illness, hospitalised, and treated with antipsychotic drugs. These
drugs paradoxically produced psychotic symptoms, and as a consequence, Mantel refrained from seeking help from doctors for some years. Finally, in Botswana and desperate, she consulted a medical
textbook and realised she was probably suffering from a severe form of endometriosis, a diagnosis confirmed by doctors in London. The condition and necessary surgery left her unable to have children
and continued to disrupt her life. Continued treatment by steroids caused weight gain and radically changed her appearance.