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Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

Wolf Hall (original 2009; edition 2010)

by Hilary Mantel

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
7,040440511 (3.98)4 / 1549
Title:Wolf Hall
Authors:Hilary Mantel
Info:Fourth Estate (2010), Edition: First Picador Edition First Printing, Paperback, 674 pages

Work details

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel (2009)

  1. 143
    The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell (kidzdoc)
    kidzdoc: This is another excellent British historical novel.
  2. 111
    Dissolution by C. J. Sansom (gypsysmom)
  3. 90
    The Autobiography of Henry VIII: With Notes by His Fool, Will Somers by Margaret George (napaxton)
  4. 91
    The Six Wives of Henry VIII by Alison Weir (elvisettey)
  5. 70
    An Instance of the Fingerpost by Iain Pears (souci)
    souci: A look at the machinations behind the throne as England passes out of placid Catholicism moving fitfully and violently towards Protestantism.
  6. 93
    Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel (zhejw)
  7. 40
    Henry VIII by J. J. Scarisbrick (robeik)
    robeik: Somewhat academic, but chock-full of detail on Henry's divorce proceedings from Catherine and the Roman Catholic Church.
  8. 40
    Six Wives: The Queens of Henry VIII by David Starkey (souloftherose)
  9. 41
    Abundance by Sena Jeter Naslund (bell7)
    bell7: Both biographical novels explore well-known historical events through the eyes of one sympathetic character close to the action.
  10. 41
    Beyond Black by Hilary Mantel (otherstories)
  11. 53
    Dark Fire by C. J. Sansom (brenzi)
    brenzi: Another book concerning the Henry VIII and Thomas Chromwell.
  12. 20
    The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel (guurtjesboekenkast)
  13. 20
    Doomsday Book by Connie Willis (Anonymous user)
    Anonymous user: This is another book that really brings a period of history to life around you.
  14. 31
    The Marriage of Meggotta by Edith Pargeter (Osbaldistone)
  15. 20
    Virgin and the Crab: Sketches, Fables and Mysteries from the early life of John Dee and Elizabeth Tudor by Robert Parry (RochieRochel)
  16. 20
    The Life of Thomas More by Peter Ackroyd (napaxton)
  17. 10
    The Corn King and the Spring Queen by Naomi Mitchison (Anonymous user)
  18. 22
    A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin (Anonymous user)
    Anonymous user: Complex political machinations in a book that clearly references English history, including the Tudor era.
  19. 11
    Sarum by Edward Rutherfurd (guurtjesboekenkast)
  20. 22
    A Bloody Field by Shrewsbury by Edith Pargeter (ansate)
    ansate: Different time period, but another fantastically written historical novel

(see all 23 recommendations)


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English (428)  Dutch (4)  Swedish (3)  German (3)  Italian (2)  Hebrew (1)  Danish (1)  Norwegian (1)  Catalan (1)  French (1)  All languages (445)
Showing 1-5 of 428 (next | show all)
favorite read of last couple of years. Since I don't know much about English history I was thoroughly engrossed and surprised at every turn. Read the sequel immediately: Bring Up the Bodies
  karenfleming | Nov 23, 2014 |
Wolf Hall is the first part of Hilary Mantel's epic fictional task to set the record straight about Thomas Cromwell, one of the key figures of history, who helped orchestrate England's break with Catholicism, so that Henry VIII could marry Anne Boleyn and try to gain a male heir. Others have painted Cromwell as a villain. Here, in striking contrast, Mantel describes him with great sympathy both as a supremely talented political aide to the most powerful people in England (first to Cardinal Wolsey, almost a second king in power at his apex, then later to King Henry VIII himsefl), and as a man simply trying to survive and thrive in a barbaric, wolf-like kingdom.

The plot sticks as close as seems academically possible to real life history, first giving us glimpses of Cromwell's young life as a commoner. He is brought up by a terribly abusive father, then arranges for an escape to Europe in his young teens, where he soon becomes a mercenary. Most of the action, though, focuses on Cromwell's persistent loyalty to Cardinal Wolsey, when his position and even life are being threatened. Then, when Wolsey dies just before he is about to be hauled to London as a prisoner, Cromwell fears for his own life, but instead that earlier loyalty seems to help place him in a favourable light to the king, where he soon becomes the most useful - and most powerful - man in Britain aside from the king himself. Cromwell helps organise the protracted annulment between the King and Catherine of Aragon, the break off between England and Catholic Rome, the marriage between Henry and Anne Boleyn, and he is a key figure to break up the church (especially the monasteries), and turn all that wealth over to the King. The novel itself ends abruptly in 1535, soon after the execution of Thomas More (who was previously himself one of the most powerful men in England - so how secure is Cromwell, really?), amidst rumblings of discontent surrounding Anne Boleyn, given she is failing to give Henry a male heir. This is where the sequel, Bring Up the Bodies, begins.

What struck me initially was how the phrase "bringing history to life" is more pertinent here than anywhere else I can think of - or even imagine. The characters feel so real, so multi-faceted and introspective and complex and intense that they also feel very modern to me. I have this silly prejudice, I admit, that there is something less sophisticated about the thinking of those in centuries past, particularly when it comes to emotional awareness. This novel demolishes those prejudices like no other recreation of history.

The language is also, at times, exquisite - lyrical, poetic, thought-provoking and occasionally even profound. It generally matches the story, which can be riveting, making you forget the historical accuracy. Instead, you are simply drawn into a wonderful plot full of intrigue, betrayal, tragedy, triumph, along with the running theme of the protagonist starting about as low as one can start in life, and then rising about as high as one can rise to.

It is also more sophisticated than a simple chronological retelling of the facts. There are various interesting structural devices, such as flashbacks, and haunting retellings of a key moment (such as Thomas More's death) from multiple angles. These all make the novel even more accomplished.

I did wonder, though, whether the agenda to save Cromwell from historical abuse went too far. Thomas More is clearly depicted as a puritanical, obstinate, inflexible cruel man, even if he is one of the smartest people in England at the time. Cromwell, though, is so much the opposite of More. Well, perhaps in intellect they are matched. While More's cleverness is largely reserved for the scholarly realm, Cromwell has apparently infinite street-smarts, making him the ideal politician. But aside from intelligence, the opposites are clear. Cromwell is so righteous, loving, loyal, benevolent and noble that I was sceptical of Mantel's accuracy in portraying him, and assumed there must have been some Machiavellian component to his character for him to have risen so far - you never see this side in the novel though. This lack of a manipulative side makes him appear a tad bland and passive at times, compared to the characters around him, who are all constantly scheming for themselves or their beliefs.

And there are so many other characters to absorb. At times I was hooked by the novel, but I was also overwhelmed at other times by the sheer number of characters, by the author's obsessive need to capture so much historical detail, and by the great length of the book. It must have been a monumental achievement to research and write, but it also feels like quite an achievement to read all the way through. I can easily see why it has received so many accolades, but I have this tiny sneaking suspicion that the judges in bestowing their awards on Wolf Hall didn't purely base their decision on their appreciation and enjoyment of the novel itself, but they almost felt pressured into giving Mantel the award because of their recognition of the monumental work that went into creating it.

On a personal note, though, before this book I was never particularly interested in history. Since this book, though, I've been obsessed, and have watched myriad documentaries of that period and many surrounding it. That Mantel has inspired me to finally start loving history after nearly four decades of aversion is about as high praise as I can give. And before getting halfway in Wolf Hall, I'd already bought the sequel. ( )
1 vote RachDan | Oct 17, 2014 |
Wolf Hall follows the methodic rise of Thomas Cromwell, from his low-born station as the son of blacksmith to prominence as King Henry VIII's most trusted advisor. Escaping his abusive father in his mid-teens, Thomas spends some time serving in the French army before becoming a successful wool merchant and then secretary to Cardinal Wolsey. Following the cardinal's death, King Henry begins to take notice of Cromwell, sensing that he may be able to facilitate in some way Henry's objective to divorce Queen Katherine and remarry to Anne Boleyn, and grants him a place in his court.

Despite Cromwell's ascent, the reader is not given the sense that he is particularly ambitious or power hungry; he is a fairly likable guy, if all business. Opportunities just seem to materialize at fortuitous times, and he shrewdly and competently executes. I enjoyed the author's imaginings of the relationships and detailed conversations among the prominent figures of the day, including Wolsey, Thomas More, Henry, Katherine, the Duke of Norfolk, Anne and Mary Boleyn, Cromwell's family and his faithful clerk, Rafe. And, as always, it pains me on some level to know that these are, in fact, imaginings for the most part. As realistically painted and believable as they might seem, we can never know exactly what transpired, and that never fails to distress me a little.

Wolf Hall was a much longer read for me than it ought to have been. The pace was somewhat plodding, increasing the chances that I became easily distracted by mobile technology while on my breaks at work and I therefore unfairly neglected the book. In addition, when I first cracked it open, I was trying to finish up A Burnable Book (Holsinger), whose setting was also the English Court, 150 years earlier. Keeping the prominent figures straight, as well as the commoners and hangers-on, between the two time periods was challenging. The author has a natural inclination toward undefined pronouns (e.g., beginning a sentence with merely "he," despite there being multiple male characters potentially present, any of whom might be the subject), demanding that the reader reread more carefully in order to discern who "he" might be. Initially, I perceived this as sloppiness, but I subsequently became convinced it was intentional as part of her style, though both confusing and distracting. ( )
  ryner | Oct 7, 2014 |
I was mildly terrified of two things when I donned my headphones and hit “play” on my iPod for the first time: (1) That I wouldn’t be able to keep all the people named Thomas straight, and (2) that Mantel’s use of “he” to mean Cromwell even if it should logically refer to someone else would leave me confused and frustrated.

Turns out neither was as bad as I’d feared! I very much enjoyed Wolf Hall and its sequel. Full review is posted on Erin Reads. ( )
  erelsi183 | Oct 2, 2014 |

I wanted to hug it to myself forever. And really, I probably never would have read it but for the book bingo challenge. I decided to widen my net for the "book your friend loves" category and asked for recommendations on Facebook. A huge list resulted, but for some reason it was this one, recommended by one of my English professors from college, Sandy Feinstein, that I fixated on. It's the somewhat familiar story of Henry VIII, but focused on Thomas Cromwell instead.

I did spend entirely too much time during the first half of the book trying to match personalities to what I remembered from that half season of Tudors I watched on Netflix a year or so ago. Later I sometimes got lost in all the Thomases and Richards, and referring to people sometimes by title and sometimes by name, and the titles changing. The book had very helpful lists of characters and family trees I made use of a few times. There are just a lot of people involved. But by the end, some are so familiar they feel like family.

I could go on and on about this book, I love it so much. I keep wanting to describe it as humane. I expected it to be full of drama and court intrigue and that's certainly there. I didn't expect it to be so comforting. Partially as a reminder that whatever injustices exist in the world today, no one is being publicly disemboweled for saying they believe the communion wafer is just a wafer, or daring to distribute the Bible in English. Also to see a man rise to power and refuse to stoop to the level of his vanquished enemies. To decline to torture even when it is the established order of the day.

It was a long book, which I first dreaded because of my deadline, but then I didn't want it to end. Lucky me, it's the first book of a trilogy. ( )
  greeniezona | Sep 20, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 428 (next | show all)
Hilary Mantel sets a new standard for historical fiction with her latest novel Wolf Hall, a riveting portrait of Thomas Cromwell, chief advisor to King Henry VIII and a significant political figure in Tudor England. Mantel’s crystalline style, piercing eye and interest in, shall we say, the darker side of human nature, together with a real respect for historical accuracy, make this novel an engrossing, enveloping read.
added by clamairy | editBookPage, Lauren Bufferd (Mar 2, 2011)
hard to read but enjoyable
added by AAGP | editSlate Audio Book Club (Mar 15, 2010)
A sequel is plainly in view, as we are given glimpses of the rival daughters who plague the ever-more-gross monarch’s hectic search for male issue. The ginger-haired baby Elizabeth is mainly a squalling infant in the period of the narrative, which chiefly covers the years 1527–35, but in the figure of her sibling Mary, one is given a chilling prefiguration of the coming time when the bonfires of English heretics will really start to blaze in earnest. Mantel is herself of Catholic background and education, and evidently not sorry to be shot of it (as she might herself phrase the matter), so it is generous of her to show the many pettinesses and cruelties with which the future “Bloody Mary” was visited by the callous statecraft and churchmanship of her father’s court. Cromwell is shown trying only to mitigate, not relieve, her plight. And Mary’s icy religiosity he can forgive, but not More’s. Anyone who has been bamboozled by the saccharine propaganda of A Man for All Seasons should read Mantel’s rendering of the confrontation between More and his interlocutors about the Act of Succession, deposing the pope as the supreme head of the Church in England.
Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall is a startling achievement, a brilliant historical novel focused on the rise to power of a figure exceedingly unlikely, on the face of things, to arouse any sympathy at all.
Thomas Cromwell remains a controversial and mysterious figure. Mantel has filled in the blanks plausibly, brilliantly. “Wolf Hall” has epic scale but lyric texture. Its 500-plus pages turn quickly, winged and falconlike... [It] is both spellbinding and believable.

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Hilary Mantelprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Willems, IneTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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'There are three kinds of scenes, one called the tragic, second the comic, third the satyric. Their decorations are different and unlike each other in scheme. Tragic scenes are delineated with columns, pediments, statues and other objects suited to kings; comic scenes exhibit private dwellings, with balconies and views representing rows of windows, after the manner of ordinary dwellings; satyric scenes are decorated with trees, caverns, mountains and other rustic objects delineated in landscape style.' Vitruvius, De Architectura, on the theatre, c.27BC
To my singular friend Mary Robertson this be given.
First words
"So now get up."

Felled, dazed, silent, he has fallen; knocked full length on the cobbles of the yard. His head turns sideways; his eyes are turned towards the gate, as if someone might arrive to help him out. One blow, properly placed, could kill him now.
The Cardinal, a Bachelor of Arts at fifteen, a Bachelor of Theology by his mid-twenties, is learned in the law but does not like its delays; he cannot quite accept that real property cannot be changed into money, with the same speed and ease with which he changes a wafer into the body of Christ.
"You're sweeter to look at than the cardinal", he says. - "That's the smallest compliment a woman ever received."
It is surprising how international is the language of old men, swapping tips on salves for aches, commiserating with petty wretchedness and discussing the whims and demands of their wives.
"Tell us, Master Cromwell, you've been abroad. Are they particularly an ungrateful nation? It seems to me that they like change for the sake of it?" - "I don't think it's the English. I think it's just people. They always hope there may be something better."
Christ, he thinks, by my age I ought to know. You don't get on by being original. You don't get on by being bright. You don't get on by being strong. You get on by being a subtle crook; somehow he thinks that's what Norris is, and he feels an irrational dislike taking root, and he tries to dismiss it, because he prefers his dislikes rational.
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Book description
Haiku summary
How many Thomases?
How many Annes? Enough for
A Reformation?
Hilary Mantel's
Character resurrection
Of Thomas Cromwell.
Fast-paced, well-written
Political thriller. Twist?
Set in Tudor times.
Thomas Cromwell, a
Complex figure: shrewd, clever,
Kind, loyal, witty.

Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0805080686, Hardcover)

Amazon Best of the Month, October 2009: No character in the canon has been writ larger than Henry VIII, but that didn't stop Hilary Mantel. She strides through centuries, past acres of novels, histories, biographies, and plays--even past Henry himself--confident in the knowledge that to recast history's most mercurial sovereign, it's not the King she needs to see, but one of the King's most mysterious agents. Enter Thomas Cromwell, a self-made man and remarkable polymath who ascends to the King's right hand. Rigorously pragmatic and forward-thinking, Cromwell has little interest in what motivates his Majesty, and although he makes way for Henry's marriage to the infamous Anne Boleyn, it's the future of a free England that he honors above all else and hopes to secure. Mantel plots with a sleight of hand, making full use of her masterful grasp on the facts without weighing down her prose. The opening cast of characters and family trees may give initial pause to some readers, but persevere: the witty, whip-smart lines volleying the action forward may convince you a short stay in the Tower of London might not be so bad... provided you could bring a copy of Wolf Hall along. --Anne Bartholomew

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 14:06:26 -0400)

(see all 8 descriptions)

Assuming the power recently lost by the disgraced Cardinal Wolsey, Thomas Cromwell counsels a mercurial Henry VIII on the latter's efforts to marry Anne Boleyn against the wishes of Rome, a successful endeavor that comes with a dangerous price.

(summary from another edition)

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