Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel

Purchased from the Book Depository (click on cover for more info)

Purchased from the Book Depository (click on cover for more info)

It would not be a proper Booker longlist if there was not at least one lengthy historical novel included. In 2009, there are two, arguably, three — Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall, A. S. Byatt’s The Children’s Book and Sarah Water’s The Little Stranger. I have no problem with this; writers who undertake longish fictional works of our history deserve appropriate attention.

Using that criterion, Wolf Hall is the most ambitious of this year’s three. Mantel has retreated almost 500 years to offer a treatment of the Tudor era. In a 650-page doorstopper, she introduces and develops the notion that Thomas Cromwell is a person that history has overlooked, that he deserves to be regarded as every bit as much an influence as Cardinal Wolsey or Thomas More at one of the key tipping points in English history. And, to bring things back to the present, her book is attracting attention. My online bookmaker now has it at only 2-1 to win the Prize from the 13 longlisted books — it opened at 5-1 and the odds quickly moved down. (Bookies make no comment on the quality of the book — they do accurately reflect how much money is being wagered on each book.)

A quick contextual summary. Henry VIII is King, Katherine of Aragon is his wife and has produced no male offspring. He has become enthralled with Anne Boleyn, who (wisely) won’t jump into his bed until he agrees to marry her and make her Queen (her sister, Mary, meanwhile is a regular bedmate). The result is a split with Rome and the creation of the Church of England, altering western world history for all time. I am absolutely certain you already know this.

None of this could happen without a lot of manoeuvering in the background and Wolsey and More have throughout history certainly attracted a lot of attention, books and films. Mantel’s book posits the idea that Thomas Cromwell was Henry’s key advisor through this period — I make no judgment on the legitimacy of that claim, but reviewers with a far deeper knowledge than I of that period in history, give it credence.

While Mantel breaks her book into six parts, I’d separate it into three:

– Cromwell’s “learning” period as Wolsey’s henchman, ending with the Cardinal’s death. The son of a blacksmith who beat him, Cromwell headed to Europe as a soldier, learned how to make money and exercise power and returned to find a position in Wolsey’s entourage that allowed him to hone his inherent skills.
– A “development” period, as Anne (in the novel) forces Henry to meet her conditions. Cromwell, betrayed by those who removed Wolsey, lines up with the interest of the Boleyns, learns the ropes, executes well and Henry’s second marriage eventually takes place.
– The “exercise” of power. Once Katherine has been put aside, Henry’s problems are far from over. Mantel portrays the King as a bit of a caricature but Cromwell is anything but. This part occupies almost the entire final half of the book and is by far the strongest section. Mantel portrays Cromwell as both ruthless and humane; there is more than one gruesome execution but, as well, her hero is committed to developing and placing the surrogate sons and daughters that are part of his household.

Anne and Henry are still together when this book ends (with the execution of More) so it is a snapshot of a period of the Tudor era, rather than a comprehensive look at Henry’s reign. Above all, it is a portrait of Cromwell, the influencer and executor.

Here are the problems that I had with this novel (severe enough that I had to put it aside halfway through):

– It does not travel well. I don’t know a lot about Tudor history, but I know the elements of the story. Perhaps if I lived in Britain, I would have been interested in all the detail that the author presents. I don’t live there and I found much of that aspect of the book very heavy slogging and, quite frankly, did not learn much that I did not already know. Mantel’s treatment of the secondary characters is particularly weak on this front.
– My reading style does not suit this kind of book at all. I usually read in sessions of more than two hours, so I would expect to finish this book in three or four sessions. The lack of plot (beyond what I already knew) and the painfully slow character development produced significant irritation. If your reading style is to read 20 or 30 pages a night and then contemplate, you’ll probably do far better than I did with this novel — and you have a whole month of reading to which to look forward.
– I did Mantel no favor with the other reading I did while I read this book. After setting it aside roughly at the halfway points, I read William Trevor’s Love and Summer and Alice Munro’s Too Much Happiness. Trevor and Munro are mainly short story writers and they share an ability to capture in two paragraphs what most authors take 10 pages to say. Mantel, on the other hand, takes 10 pages to develop (often through confusing dialogue) what most authors take care of in two paragraphs.

I make those observations to indicate that my frustration with Wolf Hall is more about myself, my habits and my tastes than criticism of the author or her book. It certainly is not the first time that I have found a Booker “big” book wanting.

I fully expect Wolf Hall to be on the Booker shortlist when it is announced Sept. 8 — and I will be only mildly surprised if it eventually wins the Prize. Having said that, not all good novels (or even Booker winners) are for everyone’s taste, and this one certainly was not for mine. I do feel a little bit guilty about being negative about Wolf Hall — for a much more enthusiastic review, check out dovegreyreader’s thoughts here . There is no doubt that Wolf Hall is an impressive piece of work, I just think many readers will join me in finding it wanting in evaluating the time that has to be invested in reading it.

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42 Responses to “Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel”

  1. Colette Jones Says:

    You shouldn’t feel guilty, Kevin. Even though I liked the book, universal praise can seem a bit wearing after a while.

    I think I benefited from not knowing much of the Tudor history at all, only what is presented to me by 10 year olds in school assemblies!

    The split from Rome was the most intriguing side of it for me (speaking as an ex-Catholic). I knew that happened under Henry VIII but knew very little about the reasons. I also did not know how controlled by the Church England was prior to that.

  2. P.S. I Love You Says:

    I’ve read ‘Wolf Hall’ and found it to be excellent. Like you, I only have a vague knowledge of the on-goings in this period of history.

    I think its interesting that you say that this book would suit readers who read around 30 pages each day. One of the things that I thought Mantel tried to do was to show how Cromwell’s early life impacted on his later life when he becomes a close friend of the King’s. I took about a week and a half to read this book and like you read managed to get through the later sections faster. However, I found that much of what I had absorbed about Cromwell’s early life was virtually all forgotten by that time. Especially the bits where he goes abroad which is referenced in quite a few places later on in the book.

    Whilst writing a review about such a large book is often difficult, I am surprised that you make no mention of some of the other key characters. Especially: the Duke of Norfolk, and some of the people in Cromwell’s household (Rafe etc). I thought that aspect of the novel was really fascinating because we got to see how those relationships changed over time.

    Would you agree with me that the novel got easier to read the more you progressed into it? Originally I thought it was because lots of the key action takes place later on. But on reflection, I can recall several key sub-plots which gripped me somewhat right from the beginning.

    One thing which I am sure that did change – but which I can’t quite put my finger on – is Mantel’s writing style. I did find that there came a point when the book became a compulsive read for me. I notice that you haven’t included any quotes from the novel in your review (which is surely a first?).

    The way in which I usually assess how good a novel has been for me is to ask myself just what exactly have I taken away from it. In the case of ‘Wolf Hall’ it was the pleasure of seeing how this interesting character, Thomas Cromwell – that much of history has sidelined – was able to rise and be so effective in Henry VIII’s England.

  3. P.S. I Love You Says:

    Sorry, just to add to the point that I didn’t finish making in the second paragraph of my previous post…

    I would have thought ‘Wolf Hall’ would be better read the way that you approached it, i.e. in a few long reading sessions. (How do you manage that by the way?!) That way you can more easily recall Cromwell’s earlier life better.

  4. Evie Says:

    “Henry VIII is King, Katherine of Aragon is his wife and has produced no male offspring.”

    Given what we now know about how the sex of a baby is determined, it is perhaps more accurate to say that Henry VIII had produced no male offspring.

  5. Leyla Sanai Says:

    Interesting review, Kevin, and, as always, you convey your opinions very eloquently.
    I am 500 pages into this novel and am really enjoying it. Like Colette and I Love You, my previous knowledge of history of this period was not extensive: although I knew the basic facts, I knew nothing at all about Thomas Cromwell, and although I had heard of More, I didn’t know much about him.
    I am finding it an intriguing read and taking my time getting through it – I’ve been reading it for over a week. I do find the use of ‘he’ instead of naming Cromwell slightly confusing at times (a stylistic quirk that is the polar opposite of Adam Thirlwell’s in The Escape, where the protagonist Haffner is often named several times in the same sentence: equally unnecessary imo). I don’t mind the slightly archaic, sumptuous language; for me it doesn’t step across that line into jarring faux Shakespearian prose.
    I am sure you’re right about some of your disinterest stemming from not living in Britain. I would perhaps struggle with such a detailed work taken from the history of a small country with which I had few ties. The books depicting historical events in other countries that I’ve really admired have been much shorter than this one – Half of a Yellow Sun about the Biafran War for example. I might have got impatient with a 700 page version of that book.

  6. kimbofo Says:

    This is one of the few on the longlist that I actually want to read… but will wait for the paperback version, I think, because hauling around a big hardcover on public transport (where I do a lot of my reading) isn’t much fun.

    When it comes to history, and especially English history, I know very, very little. So, in a way, that’s what I find attractive about the Mantel — it’s an opportunity to learn something in a fun way (although I realise I shouldn’t take everything as gospel, because it’ll be a fictionalised account of Tudor times).

    Have you read any other Mantel? I’ve just finished reading Eight Months on Gazzah Street and found it very very good.

  7. KevinfromCanada Says:

    Many thanks for the perceptive comments and even more thanks for not stomping on me for disliking a book that you all like. Sometimes I think that a negative review properly done can do nothing better than enhance the opposing thoughts of others (sort of like sprinkling garlic and mustard on lamb chops, if you will).

    Colette: I think I would have liked the book more (especially in the first part) if Mantel had paid more attention to the bigger historical issues. Part of my problem with the book is that it spends most of its time describing trees without acknowledging that they are also part of a forest and that the forest is quite a bit more interesting. There are lots of references to the ties/tensions with Spain and France as well as Rome, but none of them ever get developed.

    P.S. I Love You: What a thoughtful response! Thanks. To respond to all the points you raise:
    – I suspect reading the book in short chunks and then thinking about them might cement some of the detail that Mantel is good at when she references it later on. My issue is that the detail is pretty boring and doesn’t prove to be a major factor when it is raised later on.
    – My biggest criticism of the book, by far, is that in 650 pages the author does such a poor job of developing characters like Norfolk and Rafe (and it wouldn’t be hard to name 20 others). The reason I didn’t refer to them in the review is that all I could say is that I wish the author had paid more serious attention to them. They all become one-dimensional because of her focus on Cromwell.
    – Your point about the prose getting more accessible as the novel wore on is very interesting — I had the same response. I don’t know if it was just that I got used to the style (I don’t think that was the case) or Mantel started to change it (I do think this happened and that it was deliberate.) If I were to read this book a second time, I would be paying very close attention to this because I think it may be one of the strongest points of the book. Very perceptive observation about the lack of quotes in the review because I do almost always include them. Mantel’s style is such that a couple of short quotes would be very misleading — she writes in long sections and it would take several paragraphs to show her style. And that would make the review too long.

    Evie: Good point, but it is a SPOILER since Mantel says she is writing a follow-up book. As this one ends, Henry is still on wife two — those of us who stayed awake in history class know there are more to come. Will they fail him? Will he fail them? Could his failure to produce a male heir lead to the greatest monarch in English history — and might she be female? — taking the throne? (Until Victoria, of course, but that is for a different thread.) Stay tuned — this could be a franchise.

    leyla: I do think that being a Canadian is a factor in my response — that is one reason why I linked to dgr’s review. The results of what this book talks about impact Great Britain to this day (I know that this weekend all the C of E vicars are out staffing tambola booths at village fetes on the bank holiday — Catholic priests don’t do things like that). It is a world I can approach as an observer but not much more.

    kimbofo: I have the luxury of reading only at home, in a selection from a number of very comfortable chairs, and even with this Wolf Hall in hardcover was a difficult book to read. It has enough pages and the overall design is such that it does turn into a “brick” — even at midpoint in the book, it would not lie open on the lap. From my perspective, a taller-wider book with fewer pages would have been far better. And there is no way you want to take it on a train or tube — I suspect the paperback may be even worse. Since I don’t have to read in crowded places like that, I’m not a Kindle or eReader fan — it does strike me that this is the kind of book for travelling readers like you that does suit their product. Maybe you should give Sony a call for a trial?

    Further comments are, of course, welcome. I’ll try to do my best in not saying where Henry VIII goes from here.

  8. kimbofo Says:

    Ahhh, but Kevin, I did trial the Sony Reader last year. It didn’t win me over.

  9. KevinfromCanada Says:

    I did follow their trial (but did not know you were part of it) and have to say that it was one of the least effective marketing efforts ever, since every one had the same response that you did. And I am sure if I ever tried it, mine would be the same. Sometime when you have time, I would love to see a post on “reading long/serious books on public transport”. I know it is second nature to you (and some other bloggers) but for some of us (who read physical volumes in comfortable chairs in very nice rooms) it would be most illuminating. Frankly, I don’t think I could do it.

  10. Max Cairnduff Says:

    Interesting Kevin.

    I’m not generally a fan of books focusing on the lives of great men in history, it’s not a genre I respond to particularly. That aside though, the issues here seem to be of density and pacing, the density being due perhaps to a lack of precision in the prose rather than a depth of subject (or to an unnecessary depth of subject).

    What I would ask is why is this on the Booker list? It doesn’t sound to me particularly like literary fiction. Historical fiction is a perfectly respectable genre, I enjoy some myself, but I’m not sure it’s any more a literary genre than most other genres, than the Western say (excepting, to be fair, Cormac McCarthy who’s written some extremely literary Westerns).

    It doesn’t sound to me a novel that has what I would think of as literary concerns – language, mood, subtlety of effect. Rather it sounds as if it has genre concerns – period accuracy, convincing psychological portraits of the key historical figures, bringing historical detail to life in an accessible way.

    I note the comment that the Booker always has a long historical novel, I do rather find myself wondering though why it should. The Booker isn’t a genre fiction prize, but isn’t this essentially a genre fiction novel? A better written Child 44? It may be hugely enjoyable, a compulsive read, but is that really what the prize is about?

    A genre debate is rather by the by, it’s on the list and many think it belongs there, but reading your review it has made me think again about what should be on the list, and perhaps what shouldn’t be.

  11. Max Cairnduff Says:

    I’ll try that post sometime Kevin, I read on the tube most days in 20 minute or so chunks.

    In a nutshell though, it means I don’t read books like Wolf Hall except on holiday, it’s also why I don’t read much SF anymore (SF books tend to be a bit on the fat side for some reason). If you read in small chunks, you think carefully before starting 600+ page tomes. It’s why I got bogged down on Heradotus’s Histories, I was reading it on holiday and loved it. Reading it in small chunks though ruins it, so I’ve had to suspend the last two sections until my next holiday.

    It’s a shame, but how you read influences what you read. Still, I rather envy your comfortable chairs in nice rooms. I never read hardbacks, which is why I’m always at least a year behind on Bookers, a key reason (apart from storage space issues) is I can’t carry them easily, they’re hard to read on public transport.

  12. KevinfromCanada Says:

    Max: I do think Wolf Hall deserves its place on the list — in many ways, my review is woefully incomplete because my own barriers got in the way of fully appreciating the novel. It is not just a piece of historical fiction (and why should historical fiction be excluded from the Booker>) it does possess all the traits that make that genre worthwhile — the language is interesting, character development significant. Any Prize as broad as the Booker is going to have to include some questionable choices on the fringes (Me Cheeta and Child 44 would be good examples) and I think taking readers like myself to the fringes is a good thing. This book is much closer to the centre than those two are.

  13. Max Cairnduff Says:

    Kevin,

    Annoyingly I just lost a lengthy post, act of cat – one of them sat on the keyboard.

    I will comment to say that if you think Wolf Hall belongs on the list, that’s good enough for me, as I trust your judgement on these matters.

    On why in my view historical fiction generally shouldn’t be, well, the other cat just arrived and took the first one’s place, so I shall return to that later…

  14. P.S. I Love You Says:

    Haha – ‘He finally reviews me and has nothing good to say’. That is exactly what Mr. Cromwell is thinking now! Excellent, made me laugh.

  15. KevinfromCanada Says:

    Beware, Max. Animals are present in Wolf Hall — they may have formed a support group to suppress critical comments.

  16. Max Cairnduff Says:

    Indeed.

    I understand there are sequels planned. Is that correct? Were 650 pages really not sufficient?

    That said, historical fiction does tend to length. I have Bengtsson’s The Long Ships, Graves’s Count Belisarius and Ghosh’s the Glass Palace on the shelves at the moment (among others) and not a one of them clocks in at under 400.

  17. KevinfromCanada Says:

    I’ve only read The Glass Palace from those three, Max, and thoroughly enjoyed it. I also quite liked Ghosh’s Sea of Poppies from last year’s Booker shortlist, which apparently is volume one of three and I am looking forward to the next two. dgr indicated from meeting Mantel at a writer’s event that at least one more volume is planned (as noted above, Henry still has more wives in his future when Wolf Hall ends).

    So I would agree that historical fiction, almost by definition, tends to be long. And I don’t think that I dislike it all, but admit that it is a genre that I approach with some hesitation. I did like Burnt Shadows this year (although I like John Self’s notion that it is a “widescreen novel” as opposed to traditional historical fiction). For that matter, my favorite Booker book — The Glass Room — would also seem to fit the historical fiction description. At 416 pages, it fits into your criterion but is well short of Mantel’s 650. And, to critique myself, I will now have to ponder why I included Mantel, Byatt and Waters as historical novels in introducing this review and did not describe The Glass Room that way. Ooops. I did say in my review that it was a “widescreen novel” so in the short term that will be my excuse.

  18. Max Cairnduff Says:

    It didn’t occur to me to include The Glass Room as a historical novel either actually, interesting.

    Perhaps it’s something to do with the way it approaches its subject? Not that I’ve read it yet, but it didn’t sound as if it was primarily about the history, while Wolf Hall sounds like it is.

    I rather like John’s Widescreen Novel term, I think it rather captures something.

  19. KevinfromCanada Says:

    I took to it immediately when he first descibed it — in a review of Rana Dasgupta’s Solo here: http://theasylum.wordpress.com/category/dasgupta-rana/

    It is an excellent concept that I have used a number of times since and other bloggers have found equally useful.

  20. Rick P Says:

    Kevin,

    I did finish Wolf Hall recently. I generally liked it though detailed historical fiction is not my favourite. It’s not the sort of novel I’m attracted to but I found it to be a relatively enjoyable read.

    I admit I had some difficulty in keeping track of all the subsidiary characters and frequently referred back to the cast of characters at the front of the book.

    I’m almost finished Summertime which I certainly prefer to Wolf Hall. I like virtually everything I have read by Coetzee.

    So, Wolf Hall would get a marginal recommendation from me.

  21. KevinfromCanada Says:

    Rick: I found Wolf Hall to be a chore — but I certainly understand why some readers find it absolutely intriguing and I don’t fault the Booker jury for its choice. I too prefer Summertime (although The Glass Room is still my Booker favorite) because it opens up so many different interpretations. All of which says that we, as readers, are lucky that there are so many different authors who cast their books in so many different ways.

  22. Anastasia Hobbet Says:

    Kevin, what a thoughtful review of a brilliant and difficult book. I’ve been following reviews of Wolf Hall because I’m a long-time fan of Mantel’s–and, due to our similar histories (Mantel and I both lived long-term in the Middle East and wrote novels about the experience), I asked her early this year if she’d consider blurbing my second novel. Though we have wholly different styles, she did read the novel, Small Kingdoms, and gave me a wonderful early endorsement. Small Kingdoms is due out in the US in January. Would you consider reading it for review? You can get a better idea of the book on my website, http://www.anastasiahobbet.com, and if you’re interested in taking a look at a galley, you can contact my publisher and make a request: rania@thepermanentpress.com. Or you could email me if you’d like and I’d send you further info and a pdf of the first chapter. Many thanks. I like your site. Judging from your reviews, our sensibilities are similar: you’re just the sort of reader I’d like to reach.

  23. KevinfromCanada Says:

    Anastasia: Thank you very much for dropping by. I’ll keep my eyes open for the book — your description of the story does spark my interest. I’ll decline the offer of galleys or a pdf. file as experience has taught me that I’m not very good at reading novels in either of those formats. Do you know if your publisher will be marketing the book through Canadian channels? No problem, if not — I have no problem ordering from U.S. sources. Very impressive cover, incidentally.

    • Anastasia Hobbet Says:

      Hello Kevin,

      Thanks for your response, and for your interest in my book. No news yet of any foreign rights sales, but I’m hopeful. Small Kingdoms just earned a starred Booklist Review, which will be in its 11/15 edition. (I’ll post an excerpt below.) Are you sure you won’t look at a galley? It’s a nice one (albeit with a few spelling errors, inevitably).

      I’m impressed by your reviews–and your speed– am ordering The Jinx based on your piece, not a book I’d probably choose cold, on my own.

      Best wishes,
      Anastasia

      “Hobbet’s second novel, set in Kuwait between the two Gulf wars, beautifully evokes both character and place….Hobbet vividly renders both the stark landscape of the Middle East and its class disparity….An eloquent, haunting, and enlightening novel.”
      –Booklist, starred review

      • KevinfromCanada Says:

        Thanks for the offer, but I’ll wait for the book — galleys just aren’t my preferred reading. Very nice excerpt from Booklist.

        • Anastasia Hobbet Says:

          Hello Kevin, I’m checking back in with you after several months to ask you if you’d still be interested in reviewing my second novel, SMALL KINGDOMS. It was released in the US in January and has won fine reviews. Last Sunday, it won a short review in the NYT Book Review, much to my surprise. The reviewer calls the book ‘captivating.’ I have links to a dozen or more reviews on the ‘Reviews’ page of my website: http://www.anastasiahobbet.com, in case you’d like a look. You may prefer not to read a bunch of reviews before forming your own judgment, but I hope you take a look at the website. All the best to you. You write very thoughtful stuff. Thanks!

          • KevinfromCanada Says:

            I haven’t forgotten about your novel — I’ll probably include it in my next U.S. order (although that may yet be a few months). Great to hear that you are getting good reviews.

            • Anastasia Hobbet Says:

              Thanks for that quick response, and for planning (maybe) to take a look at the book. I do appreciate it.

            • Anastasia Hobbet Says:

              Kevin, one bit of info that you might like to be reminded of as you read Small Kingdoms: August 2nd will be the 20th anniversary of Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait, and next January will mark the 20th anniversary of the first Gulf war. Only one review, in the Dallas Morning News, has noted this significant anniversary, and then only in passing.

  24. Anastasia Hobbet Says:

    Yes, it was a generous review. Thanks, Kevin.

  25. Trevor Says:

    A very lovely cover. Best wishes Anastasia.

  26. Anastasia Hobbet Says:

    Thank you, Trevor. The graphic artist melded three components: wall, woman, shadow. That would make a fine title, come to think of it. –Enjoyed your review of The Bishop’s Man, what I could read of it. I still can’t access the whole thing. My mother is a Catholic rebel of long standing, so this may be a book we’ll both read. I plan to forward your review to her.

    To both you and Kevin: If either of you does end up reading Small Kingdoms and reviewing it, I’d love to know what you make of the ending. I don’t want to tell you much, so I’ll just say that some of my pre-pub readers have thought it hopeful, and others thought it tragic — but none of the reviews or endorsements so far have mentioned it.

  27. whisperinggums Says:

    I am late to this as I have only just read this book..have done my blog post and am now checking out other blogs. I have to say I really enjoyed it – found it a rivetting read (which may be because it followed a book that bogged me down a little – Rushdie’s The enchantress of Florence) but there were some in my bookgroup who found it hardgoing in places. You are right about the lack of development of other characters but I think this is because this book is not only ABOUT Thomas Cromwell but is also FROM his perspective – so is about how he sees the other people around him rather than being about all those characters. I think this makes it a different sort of book to the traditional 3rd person omniscient?? Anyhow, thanks for your review – it’s clear, intelligent and makes good sense.

  28. KevinfromCanada Says:

    wg: I agree with you about the Rushdie — not only bogged down, but ultimately disappointing. As for Wolf Hall — now with some months of reading it under my belt — I think it is one of those books that if a reader engages early it is transporting. And if the reader doesn’t (and I didn’t) the book becomes a real struggle. I certainly do not discourage anyone from reading it — indeed, the opposite is true — but I do warn that many may be disappointed. Thanks for your kind comments about my review.

  29. KevinfromCanada Says:

    Anastasia: Thanks for the reminder — I ordered your book today.

  30. Catherine Says:

    I’m reading it right now. I’m busy with my business so only read a few pages everyday. I think reading it a few pages at time makes it too confusing.

    Actually I was about halfway through and, finding it heavy going, put it aside a few days ago to reread “Our Mutual Friend,” by Charles Dickens which I bought for my 15 year old son when he requested it. But after reading this review, will persevere. Thanks so much.

  31. KevinfromCanada Says:

    Catherine: I had the same problem with Wolf Hall — after 200 pages or so, I actually set it aside for a few weeks and then had another go. And it is so complex, that reading it a few pages at a time would add to the challenge. Good luck.

  32. Neale of Oz Says:

    Thanks Kevin, now I don’t feel like a complete illiterate after reading Wolf Hall. The narrative was made confusing with its lack of historical context and what one blogger described as Mantel’s focus on the trees (without even telling us what bloody forest we were in). It was made downright difficult by her Mantel’s reticence to use Cromwell’s name (or repeat anybody’s name too often) and her device of usually referring to him as “he” as if he some sort of deity. The “he” Cromwell would just drop into the narrative mid-paragraph and it would take me two or three takes to work out whether Mantel was referring to Cromwell or the most recently named other “he”. Hilary, you can use someone’s nice twice on one page (and even one sentence if necessary) so the person reading your text can understand who or what you are talking about. Wolf Hall is a masterpiece of obscurity. It is lit for the literati.

  33. KevinfromCanada Says:

    Neale: You and I are out of step with the majority on this one, although we aren’t the only ones to have been frustrated by the book. I have read that the sequel is due out in 2012 — haven’t decided yet whether I will try it or not.

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