Over summer I had a bit more time to read than usual, so I decided to tackle a book I’d put off reading due to it’s sheer size – Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel, the winner of this year’s Man Booker Prize. It tells the fascinating story of Thomas Cromwell, a man of dubious lineage who rose to become one of the most influential men at the court of King Henry VIII.
The story is set in the 1520′s, as Henry is becoming increasingly frustrated by his lack of a male heir by his wife Catherine of Aragon. His attention has been captured by the charming Anne Boleyn, and he thinks he might have better luck with her. Unfortunately, the Catholic Church does not allow divorce, and the stage is set for a battle of wills between King and Church – ultimately resulting in the creation of the Church of England (which conveniently does allow divorce!).
Into this turmoil steps Thomas Cromwell, a shrewd and ambitious opportunist. He had not been born with the advantages of the usual members of court, but through his intelligence and wit had become the protege of Cardinal Wolsey. He survived Wolsey’s fall by becoming indispensable to the Boleyn family, and by the time the King had tired of Anne, had become the King’s right hand man. He then helped orchestrate Anne’s downfall.
As the story is told from Cromwell’s point of view, we see the events and characters through his eyes. We also see the whole man – not only the ambitious manipulator, but also the loving family man, witty companion and loyal friend.
It’s a fascinating tale of intrigue, action, drama and pathos, told with energy and wit in an original and modern style. I thoroughly enjoyed this novel, and wondered why I had put it off so long! Highly recommended. $33. Fiona