summer book exchange #6: Wolf Hall

I love telling the story of Henry VIII discarding his first two wives. It’s salacious and full of intrigue, two of the best aspects of any story. Plus lots of dirty stuff.

Having said that, I’ve never been much of a fan of historical fiction. Maybe “not a fan” is too strong – “not able to get into” is maybe more accurate, because it snaps me out of the story when the author takes …liberties… with the material.

Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel (2009)

photoI’ll say this right off the top – Mantel is a fantastic writer and her style is engaging and smooth. Even if I hadn’t known anything about Henry, Thomas More and Thomas Cromwell going into this book, it wouldn’t have mattered, because Mantel brings them all to life quite effectively.

It’s clear that the book is researched in depth; Mantel doesn’t screw up the little stuff and she just flat out gets the details correct. That goes a long way towards suspending belief long enough to enjoy the story – even though I knew how it was going to end.

(Well – sort of. This is book 1 of a trilogy. I know how book 3 will end.)

The cool thing about this book is that it doesn’t focus on King Henry and his new (second) bride, Anne Boleyn. This book is all about the people in the background, the people dealing with Henry’s tumultuous decision.

There’s a bit of projection of modern values backwards onto historical figures, but I suppose that can’t be helped. In reality, the only truly sympathetic character in the story of Henry VIII was Thomas More, and they chopped his head off. Mantel has to create a hero or the story isn’t compelling. Cromwell becomes that compelling figure at the center of the narrative, and we’re drawn into his rise from humble beginnings to the lofty heights of court.

I probably won’t delve into the sequels because this isn’t the kind of genre I get into, but this was a very good book.