Oh man, I read Wolf Hall about a million years ago and haven’t written it up because I haven’t really solidified what I want to say about it. But now I’ve (finally) finished another book (in my defense, it’s 800+ pages, and while I’m a speed demon when it comes to reading, I’ve only been reading before bed and so it’s been 800+ pages in 20 minute chunks) and if I don’t write about Wolf Hall now, I never will.
First, I can’t see Thomas Cromwell except played by James Frain. I can picture Henry VIII as more his likeness than as Johnathn Rhys Myers, this isn’t a universal thing, but sometimes even without having seen a filmic adaptation of any kind, my mind just settles on one actor to play the part of a character in a novel and that THAT is the image in my head. Thinking about Thomas Cromwell as played by anyone other than James Frain just doesn’t work for me. I’ve cast entire “movies” in my head in the course of reading. I blame this on the fact that I’m entirely a visual thinker, so the process of reading is reading “the movie” that is the action of the novel. And movies need casts. Anyway, reading Wolf Hall with James Frain as Cromwell works really well. Much better than most of the casting of The Tudors. (Natalie Dormer as Anne Boleyn? Really? I mean, she’s beautiful, but Anne Boleyn was not classically beautiful. I haven’t definitively cast Anne in my mind yet.)
I’m way obsessed with all things Tudor and as a fictional history of the time, Wolf Hall is stunning. Thomas Cromwell is far and away one of the most intriguing characters of the era and his life makes for an incredible story. His point of view navigating the political alliances of the court as a “nobody” was nearly ruined with Cardinal Wolsey’s fall – the only thing saving him being his own innate cunning – gives a clear view of what was at stake in falling out of favor at any given moment. There’s not much point in my recounting the plot of the novel – if you know Tudor history, there aren’t any spoilers. It doesn’t deviate into speculation in the way that The Other Boleyn Girl, for example, does. It pretty much sticks to the story as it played out. If you don’t know Tudor history, this book is a good intro.
My one complaint with Mantel’s writing style is that she continually refers to Cromwell simply as “he” or “He,” which got HELL OF confusing when another male character was referred to in the same sentence. I had to go over some sentences two or three times to tease out which “he” was which (“He told him what he thought.” That sort of thing, only more detailed.), which seriously interrupted the flow of the novel. Just say “Cromwell told him what he thought.” or “He told him what Cromwell thought.” I’m not sure where the stylistic choice came from to use the third person singular pronoun rather than the dude’s NAME when referring to him, but at least she’s consistent. I kind of got the hang of it after a hundred or so pages, but it still tripped me up on occasion all the way up to the end.
And speaking of the end… is there going to be a sequel? This reads a bit like a part one of a larger work, which might just be because I WANT more. Always an endorsement.