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Wolf Hall: Book review


Reviewer: tvnz.co.nz's Sophie Lyon


Tudor England has been much picked over by novelists, historians, filmmakers alike.  And in 2009 it's the turn of British novelist Hilary Mantel, who succeeds magnificently with her latest, Wolf Hall, just long-listed for the 2009 Booker Prize.

Most of us probably know the story of Henry VIII and his down-and-dirty battle to divorce Katherine and marry Anne Boleyn, and the subsequent face-off with the Catholic Church, but Mantel manages to bring the history and characters alive in a way in which it is like we're reading about it for the first time.

In no small measure this is due to Mantel basing the novel around the figure of Thomas Cromwell - the man we meet on page one "felled, dazed, silent" getting a kick up the backside from his drunkard father.

From that inauspicious beginning Cromwell somehow goes on to become Earl of Essex and Henry VIII's chief minister. Wolf Hall tracks that astounding rise.

Cromwell has traditionally been painted as a dark figure - a thug, the man who carries out Henry's dirty work - but in Wolf Hall Mantel rehabilitates the man.

Mantel's Cromwell is a more sympathetic and genuinely human character. He's a family man with real affection for his wife and children; he even has a sense of humour.

Mantel manages a massive cast of characters - detailed over five pages at the beginning of the book - without the novel ever getting bogged down.

To her immense credit the pace never flags and the characters don't get lost.  There's plenty of historical detail spread across the 653 pages but it compliments, doesn't overwhelm and leave the reader stranded in some massive digression.

And never fear, there will be a sequel. We leave the novel's protagonist on his way to Wolf Hall - Wolf Hall are, indeed, the final two words of the book - it's the residence of the Seymour family.

Bring it on, I say. Highly recommended.


Rating: 8/10

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

Publisher: Harper Collins
RRP : $36.99
Available: Now


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