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Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel (re Cromwell)

Historical Fiction

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Edited: Oct 26, 2009, 2:54pm Top

Anyone else reading Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel? This is the recent Booker Prize winner about Henry VIII, Anne Boleyn, through the story of Thomas Cromwell.

I've read other books by Mantel and have barely begun this one but would love to be able to discuss it as I wander through. Anyone else?


Oct 26, 2009, 2:56pm Top

I have just started Wolf Hall and am enjoying it very much.

Edited: Oct 27, 2009, 10:45pm Top

Great! I peeked at your recent reads and it looks like we have quite a few in common. I'm very interested in Rohinton Mistry (read most of his books) but that's a lot of money for 48 pp as it has to be imported.

Anyway--I'm having a bit of a problem following the way Mantel over-uses "he" in Wolf Hall, but I'm so interested in the topic and the way the story is unfolding, I'll press on.

Oct 27, 2009, 5:57pm Top

I agree with you about the "he" pronoun and who it refers to- but I love the characters- the cardinal,( I keep on picturing Sam Neill who played him in the CBC series "The Tudors" -fun very bad history by the way) and Thomas More. I find that Henry is still a mystery -I'm half way through. I do like the portrayal of Anne Boleyn and her sister, Mary.

Edited: Oct 27, 2009, 6:09pm Top

I finished it a couple of weeks or so ago and loved it. I'm hoping to read more by Mantel.

How are you liking it so far, BCCJillister?

Oops. Edited to write that I just saw your post #3. I await your future updates!

Oct 27, 2009, 10:51pm Top

I'm enjoying it and trying to get used to the 'he' thing--assuming it's Cromwell unless otherwise indicated but it is driving me nuts. If a sentence begins with another male name, as the subject, then one would expect the 'he' in the same sentence to agree...but nooooo.

I've read one or two others by Hilary Mantel and they were shockingly different--modern and a very clear style. One was Beyond Black and I'm blanking on the other.

Oct 28, 2009, 12:23am Top

I loved it too and even loved the "he" thing! I have her An Experiment in Love out of the library at the moment but haven't got into it yet.

Oct 29, 2009, 8:52pm Top

I love all books by Hilary Mantel that I've read! I really enjoyed Wolf Hall, though I am one who did not like the "he" thing. Can't wait for the sequel :-)

Oct 30, 2009, 9:04am Top

Still enjoying Wolf Hall but have to interrupt the journey to read A Town Like Alice set in the Japanese death march in Malaya for my online book group deadline.

But, I'll be back to it asap

Oct 30, 2009, 11:49am Top

If a sentence begins with another male name, as the subject, then one would expect the 'he' in the same sentence to agree...but nooooo.

Well, that's going to annoy me! That's just grammatically incorrect . . . what you're describing is a pronoun-antecedent agreement error. Grammar teachers around the world should revolt and boycott this book! ;-)

Oct 30, 2009, 7:10pm Top

> 10 - it is annoying, but the book is worth making it through. I think as a rule of thumb, when in doubt, just assume "he" refers to Cromwell!

Nov 8, 2009, 12:36pm Top

I just started reading Wolf Hall last night and could not put it down. Although the excessive, unclear use of the pronoun "he" causes some pause in my reading, Mantel otherwise creates vivid imagery that draws me back to both the story and the character development. At this point, keeping up with all of the characters causes more interuption in my reading because I have to keep referring to the character list and family trees at the beginning of the book. I am anxious to get back to reading Wolf Hall this evening.

Dec 14, 2009, 3:39am Top

I'm looking forward to reading this book, but the gripes about this "he" pronoun misuse is a bit offsetting.

I'm also uneasy about the apparent positive light it throws on Cromwell. Ever since watching A Man for All Seasons as a kid, I've always considered Cromwell a devious, odious worm.

Oh, and the fact that I'm Irish means that the name Cromwell comes loaded (some would say overloaded) with very negative connotations anyway! :)

Dec 14, 2009, 4:28am Top

>3 BCCJillster:

It actually becomes part of the fascination of the book at one point :)

Dec 16, 2009, 8:19am Top

I intend to get this when it comes out in papeback, but am a bit put off by the fact that it's written in the present tense (at least the bits I've looked at in shops).

Dec 16, 2009, 8:30am Top

The book was published in trade paperback format in Canada- very thick(could double as a doorstopper) paperback.

Dec 16, 2009, 8:34am Top

The mass-market paperback is out (the one that is officially published in March 2010 by Fourth Estate in UK - at least I managed to buy it from an airport in Asia 2 weeks ago). It's a 650 pages mass-market sized book (it does not say mass market (no such thing in UK) - it says First Export Paperback edition or something like this but it is the size of a paperback or slightly bigger - will check tonight) with kinda smallish letters but still readable.

>15 john257hopper:
I hate present tense in books. And the book would have worked in past tense. But nevertheless - I still like it...

Dec 16, 2009, 6:05pm Top

I just finished this, and thought it was one of the best books I've read in years. All the complaints about "he" and present tense seem trivial compared to the beauty of the writing and the complexity of the character of Cromwell. Mantel is apparently planning/writing a sequel; I have mixed feelings about that since it will be hard to see the sympathetic character she has created become embroiled in the ugliness of the destruction of the monasteries and Anne Boleyn's execution, not to mention his own fall from grace.

Dec 16, 2009, 9:22pm Top

I listened to this on audio and really enjoyed it. Simon Slater was the narrator and he did a wonderful job. I particularly liked his voice for Wolsey, Cranmer and especially More. More's characterization was with this sneery kind of voice, perfect for the depiction of him in the book. Cromwell's inner thoughts were right on the money and some of his sides made me laugh out loud. I liked the book, but I didn't think it deserves all the buzz surrounding it, but it still had many little gems in it and it made me like Cromwell.

Dec 17, 2009, 12:21am Top

#18 Kathy, I agree and it's proabbly my #1 book this year (unless some miracle happens and I start and finish something amazing in the next 14 days!)

Edited: Jan 19, 2010, 5:14pm Top

Anyone concerned about Cromwell being presented in a positive light is going to faint dead away when they get to Thomas More. He is represented as a self-righteous, intolerant prig. Cromwell, on the other hand, could give Dorothy Dunnett's Francis Crawford a run for his money; is there nothing this man cannot do, no language that he cannot speak?

The characters are wonderfully realised, largely through their own use of language. The Duke of Norfolk leaps off the page a dead ringer for the current Duke of Edinburgh.

This is a wonderful book. The "he" thing that people complain about takes a little getting used to, but it is a signifier that the speaker, or thinker, is Cromwell himself. The whole story is told as a stream of consciousness from inside his head. No editorialising by the author at all.

Dec 17, 2009, 4:30am Top

>21 dajashby:
They got to More... a few times? :)

Actually I like the way Cromwell is presented - it is much more closer to what I am thinking about him than most of the history books. He is no saint but in some ways he is not exactly the black sheep that history makes of him sometimes...

Dec 17, 2009, 5:03am Top

I started it the other night and was put off by the use (or, rather, overuse) of "he" as well as by the present tense. Kept throwing me right out of the story and became so irritating I put the novel down and haven't picked it back up yet ~ and am not sure that I will. I got to Chapter 3, and it took more effort than it seemed to be worth. What is most bothersome is that those literary devices appear to be completely unnecessary.

Okay, tirade over. After reading what everyone has said about the novel, I will give it another few chapters to see if I can overcome my initial dislike.

Dec 21, 2009, 10:08am Top

I've just started "Wolf Hall." I've not read Mantel before, but it was very easy to get into this book.


Dec 21, 2009, 10:21am Top

After finishing it a few days ago - where is the sequel? :) It was almost clear from the title that unless if this books spans a few more years, there will be a sequel... however - it became obvious from the last lines. It's a good story on its own but I suspect that the second part will finish all the portraits started in the first... :)

Dec 21, 2009, 12:13pm Top

25--Mantel is writing a sequel, but as it took her five years to finish Wolf Hall, I'm betting we won't be seeing it any time soon. Too bad.

Dec 21, 2009, 12:18pm Top

>26 theaelizabet:
I know, I know :) Guess I am going to keep an eye on her and what she says and does for a while.

Dec 25, 2009, 10:14am Top

This "he" thing is really bothersome, but I'm pulled along by the characters.

Dec 31, 2009, 11:31pm Top

I read a review a few weeks ago and I can't wait to read it, but I can't find it anywhere. I'm from a small country, but in a few days I'm going to Chicago so I'll probably get it there.

Jan 1, 2010, 4:30pm Top

I've been tossing around reading Wolf Hall and now I'm really wanting to read it after hearing y'all talk about it. Dang. I guess I need to see if they have it at the library.

Jan 11, 2010, 10:29pm Top

> 29 sheeplifter
> ...I can't find it anywhere. I'm from a small country...

Check out www.bookdepository.co.uk

Free shipping worldwide. They're cheap, fast and have Wolf Hall for Euro15, or US$22.45. If you're willing to wait a couple of months for delivery, you can even order the mass market paper back for about US10.

Jan 12, 2010, 2:15am Top

Unless my eyesight is getting worse, Croatia is not on the list of countries that Book Depository will ship to: http://www.bookdepository.com/help/topic/HelpId/26/Free-delivery-worldwide-as-st...

Jan 12, 2010, 2:57am Top

But Amazon.co.uk does (Europe 3 category). But Chicago will be easier for sure.

Jan 12, 2010, 5:10am Top

>33 sqdancer:
They used to be before new year.

Edited: Jan 12, 2010, 10:13am Top

> 33 Sqdancer
> Unless my eyesight is getting worse, Croatia is not on the list of countries that Book Depository will ship to

That's why I posted a link to the UK (and original) site; not the US site you list.

Croatia is indeed on the list of countries BookDepository (UK Site) ships to free of charge. Check out the list here: http://www.bookdepository.co.uk/help/topic/HelpId/3/Which-countries-do-you-deliv...

Edited: Jan 12, 2010, 5:49pm Top

>36 omaca:
I followed your link in message 32, but did not notice that it automatically forced me to the the US site. I must quit posting in the middle of the night.

Jan 18, 2010, 6:14pm Top

I read Wolf Hall a few months ago for a book club, and the usage of "he" was a major point of discussion! I was the only one who employed the "he means Thomas Cromwell unless otherwise indicated" rule. Needless to say, there were a lot of confused people in the group.

I've never read anything else by Mantel - does she always use pronouns so loosely in her writing? Was this some sort of stylistic choice made specifically for this book? It's annoying, but it gets you talking, I guess...

Jan 19, 2010, 11:20am Top

I just started this book the other night...wasn't sure about reading another book on the Tudors but this one had me pulled in after Chapt. 1. So far, so good - and I hadn't noticed the pronoun thing yet but I'm sure I will after reading these posts... ;-)

Edited: Jan 21, 2010, 5:35am Top

>38 heidilach:
I've read A Place of Greater Safety and the style is quite conventional, but I can see that Wolf Hall is a development, not a departure. Instead of the interaction between three principal characters (Danton, Desmoulins and Robespierre) she's pared it down to one and the focus is intensely on his view of the world, both mentally and literally. There is no scene where he is not present, none of the irritating expository interpositions you get in The Children's Book, for example.

I wouldn't describe the syntax as loose, it's actually very tight and intended to reinforce the feeling that you are inside Cromwell's head. It is interesting to wonder why Mantel didn't just tell the story in the first person. Could it be that she still wanted to leave the reader some room to speculate about his thought processes, some ambiguity about his motivations?

Jan 20, 2010, 6:22pm Top

I just reserved Wolf Hall as an audiobook. This will be my first audibook and want to listen to it while I'm working out at the gym. From what I've read in this thread it seems that this might be a difficult book to follow in the audio format. Do those of you who have read it agree with this.

Jan 20, 2010, 8:10pm Top

vb198 - I listened to it on audiobook (while working out at the gym too) and it wasn't that hard to follow, I really enjoyed it. You do have to concentrate and if your mind is wandering you can miss things or the some little gems in it, but overall, it was not difficult to follow.

Jan 23, 2010, 1:10pm Top

Best book I read in 2009.

Jan 24, 2010, 5:03pm Top

I read so many recommendations of Wolf Hall, that I had to read it. I was given it for Christmas in hardback and really enjoying it so far - I think I'm approx page 150. In fact, going to go and read it now. Haven't read much 'historical fiction', but this I like!

Feb 9, 2010, 8:46am Top

Am a third of the way through the book and still can't come to grips with her writing style. The "he" thing has been mentioned - and I have a problem with her use of the simple present which should be used for habitual actions (i.e. I read the paper every morning, he walks to school every day); if immediacy is wanted, she should be using the present progressive (he is staring at Rafe). I find it cumbersome and a bit affected. I am disappointed because I was in the mood for good historical fiction. I will probably finish it but doubt I will read another Mantel if she uses the simple present in all her writing.

Feb 14, 2010, 6:04pm Top

I've been following this thread for a while and I am becoming more and more amazed and disappointed that the only thing that anyone seems to focus on is the use of he. There's so much going on in this book: characterization, beautiful use of language.

The reader is inside Cromwell's head, as one commentor noted, but not entirely. There is still quite a bit of hidden motivation and ambiguity there. That's why she didn't use the first person.

Mar 4, 2010, 11:25pm Top

Ooh, yes! People who read Wolf Hall! And as a previous poster said, I, too, picture the actors from The Tudors. It's always good to find another angle from which to revel in Tudor England. Also, Cromwell is particularly well placed for this because he was present for the drama, but not too intimately involved. Usually, I gravitate towards books from the female perspective, but I liked how it had more of the religious commentary. One question I have is why is it called Wolf Hall? He never goes there!

Mar 5, 2010, 6:58am Top

Henry VIII does at the end (or does he just start for there at the end of the novel - cannot remember now?)... and falls in love with Jane. This is what changes the history... and Cromwell's life.

Mar 5, 2010, 9:11pm Top

I finished Wolf Hall on my Ipod a couple of weeks ago. I understand from the review in the NY Review of Books that a sequel is expected. I certainly hope so. It was an excellent book. Very well written, and really brought Thomas Cromwell and 'his' cardinal and king to life. I have to say though that I really didn't get the "Wolf Hall" connection in the title.

Mar 5, 2010, 11:19pm Top

The very last words in the book are "Wolf Hall". It's 1535 and the king is about to visit on a royal progress, accompanied by Cromwell. Wolf Hall in Wiltshire was the seat of the Seymours, and it is quite likely that this was when Henry first noticed mousey little Jane Seymour (who in the novel has already been noticed by Cromwell). It's as if the whole story has been leading up to this moment. I have to say that when I read the last sentence I actually drew in my breath. What a point in the narrative to stop!

Presumably the sequel will be head first into the drama of Cromwell's continued rise at the expense of the rapacious Boleyns. I look forward to Martel's take on his eventual downfall.

Mar 6, 2010, 5:23pm Top

And the last chapter is titled "To Wolf Hall". The whole book's journey, with all its players, was leading to Wolf Hall?

Mar 24, 2010, 8:05pm Top

Listened to it on audio book while commuting - actually listened twice since I missed some of the details the first time. I actually loved it. I felt like I was there in 1535, watching these people, listening to them. It's very descriptive. And you do feel like you can read Cromwell's thoughts. Can't wait for the sequel.

Mar 28, 2010, 3:57pm Top

As somebody who has no real knowledge of anything Tudor England, could I still enjoy this book?

Would it be a good idea to do a little wikipedia action prior to reading it? If so, on who and what?

Mar 28, 2010, 10:08pm Top

>53 homan9118:
It's only my opinion, but I think you would enjoy it just as a great novel. There is no need to do any preliminary reading.

Personally I would be really interested in the views of somebody who reads Wolf Hall with no real knowledge of the historical events.

Mar 29, 2010, 11:09am Top

>53 homan9118:

Go ahead and read it. You will miss all the foreshadowing and all the things that whoever knows the period sees way too early but I think you still can enjoy the book a lot.

Mar 30, 2010, 9:43am Top

I say just read it! She gives background on the dynasty and events in different ways. There are also charts to show who is who. There are a thousand Thomases, so good luck, but nothing will help you get sorted on that matter.

I always delve into a non-fiction read or two at the same time or after a story set in the past, but I have to say I am "in hate" with Wikipedia. I'd suggest Britannica if you want the skinny! (No I do not work for them ;0)

Mar 30, 2010, 9:45am Top

> 50

I can't wait to see what she does with the whole story. But I suppose that's exactly what I'll do, being the door stopper that it is.

Edited: Apr 15, 2010, 1:19pm Top

I finished it this week for my book club, which gave mixed reviews. I summarized the reaction on my blog, and I'm also giving away my hardcover copy. If you're interested, here is the link.


Although I didn't love it the way some people did, I know I will end up reading the sequel.

Edited to add: Winner now posted at http://wp.me/pIkHt-sh

Apr 12, 2010, 2:11am Top

Wolf Hall is my favorite novel at the moment; can't wait for Book 2. I've read it twice so far, and I've no doubt I'll read it again.

This has become my default book; when I'm bored with everything else I read Wolf Hall.

May 11, 2010, 3:49pm Top

Ditto, excellent, a bit tedious at times, but that's because I am addicted to action. Really great sense of place.

Edited: Oct 13, 2010, 6:25pm Top

In response to the many complaints above about the overuse of 'he' by Mantel: it bothered me also until I imagined the alternatives. Go through almost any page and rewrite it "your" way or in a way that is more persnickety grammatical and you will see what I'm getting at.

Oct 8, 2010, 12:27pm Top

I just finished this book (need to get by ER review done!), and enjoyed it very much. At least, I did once I got past the author's odd tendency never to refer to Cromwell by name (except when he was so addressed by others), which often resulted in confusion as to who was speaking or being talked about.

Oct 8, 2010, 8:38pm Top

I read this book a few months ago, and then spent forever trying to find something that could compare.

I'd never cared about the era or the characters until I read Wolf Hall, and when I was done I looked all over for more on Tudor England written even half as well.
Unfortunately for me, everything I picked up after that seemed like goofy, romantical, poorly-researched drivel.

Wolf Hall made me feel like I was there, and knew the people. It made Cromwell & others seem real and alive without trivializing them or the things they did.
It is one of my very favorite books, ever.

Oct 8, 2010, 8:46pm Top

"Mantel said she has started work on the sequel to Wolf Hall, which will be titled The Mirror And The Light. "What I have got at the moment is a huge box of notes," she added." -- in The Guardian, last year.

May 8, 2011, 5:08pm Top

Just finished the audio version of Wolf Hall and must run out and get a hard copy to read. I loved Mantel's use of language and how densely written it was. The narrative concerning Cromwell's loss of his wife and daughters was especially touching. The "he" thing didn't bother me as it was read and seemed clear that way and I suspect as I'm aware of it won't give me the grief it gave others when I sit down to read it.

May 9, 2011, 11:04pm Top

I finished this book a couple weeks ago, and I still can't get its distinctive voice out of my head. I've read a ton of fiction and non-fiction about this era, and this one outdid them all for me. Knowing what history has in store for Cromwell, Anne, and Jane...I can't wait for part two.

Feb 19, 2013, 10:13am Top

I never thought of Hilary Mantel being controversial, but she's causing some flack because of her recent criticism of the Duchess of Cambridge. http://www.salon.com/2013/02/19/hilary_mantel_under_attack_for_calling_kate_midd...

Feb 19, 2013, 10:51am Top

I'm going to pick this up again, as I started it twice and I think the third try might just get me through her incredible book now that I've gotten used to her style and voice.

Feb 19, 2013, 3:15pm Top

>67 varielle:
One must wonder if Ms. Mantel has any personal insight into the royals that doesn't come through the media which she clearly does not trust. In the absence of other sources of insight, I don't see that she has any sound basis for her comments, especially when she clearly recognizes the traps associated with basing one's judgment solely on what is in the media. The PM, on the other hand, probably does have personal experience and insight, but is also likely to temper his comments based on political concerns.

My gut tells me that the duchess is probably more complicated than Ms. Mantel gives her credit for, but that she does live in a world that rewards form over function and can hardly be immune to such pressures.

But, mostly, I have never felt that the lives of the royals were any of my business. One of my favorite quotes is, I believe, from Eleanor Roosevelt: "Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people." I suppose I could argue that some of this post is about ideas, but I'd have to admit that it runs dangerously close to being about people, and people that are of no real import or interest to me. But, having just survived the latest US Presidential election, I find that I'm paying more attention to how people form opinions about celebrities and others that they actually can't really know. Most of the time, we have no business or reason to be forming opinions; when we do, finding reliable and honest sources of information is quite difficult, and becoming more so.


Feb 19, 2013, 3:19pm Top

I did think it was rather rude. The poor girl is probably stressed out enough without people unnecessarily mocking her.

Feb 22, 2013, 3:34pm Top

Check out Wolf Hall at Audible as they have a PDF link for a reference list of characters; This really helps when you listen to audiobooks & don't have the 'real book' in your library; I listen primarily to audio & it can be hard to keep track of all the names.

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