Book Review (of sorts): Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall

Wolf Hall (Thomas Cromwell, #1)Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I understand the fuss, and also the frustration.

The writing in this book is simply beautiful, and the portrait of Cromwell, and his negotiations, machinations and dealings, is complex and interesting.

If I hadn’t watched the ‘Tudors’ TV series, I think I would have been completely lost though, and as much as I liked it, it took me two months to get through. I liked it but I wasn’t compelled, particularly by the end, when I realised that very little had happened.

Apparently, the action is in ‘Bring up the Bodies’

Yes, it is hard to follow the narration, and too many people have the same names, or are referred to in different ways. But I kept on stumbling on passages of writing which put me in awe. I think I’ll take a break for a while, and tackle the sequel at a future date.

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In the meantime, good old Goodreads. I couldn’t resist doing a short review so I could get a nice little image of the cover in the corner of this page. But my other thoughts about the book are of a different nature:

I remember falling in love with books in university, and it was such a quiet experience. I hid away in their pages, and perhaps discussed them in classes and with others, but I remember a feeling of personal connection and interest with the authors (at the time, being obsessed with Margaret Atwood and then Michael Ondaatje), and a sort of tranquil intimacy.

What a different age we’ve entered. Now my reading experience is mediated by, well, media. I couldn’t help but envision the actors from the Tudors in the book. And now, after watching two episodes of the Wolf Hall mini-series, the characters are a mix between the two of them (though Jonathan Rhys-Meyers and Damian Lewis, both playing Henry VIII, are so physically dissimilar: it’s impossible to meld the two).

There’s also the stage adaptations, which I’ve read the reviews of.  And I can read hundreds of reviews by others on sites like Goodreads to compare and contrast reading experiences. I suppose this would only happen with blockbusters, but the possibility of a mass communal reading experience seems a particular feature of our time. I do find it interesting, though, that such a complex, difficult and nuanced book should be so widely read. That seems a good thing.

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