By Hilary Mantel
Henry Holt & Company
Henry VIII needs an heir. His twenty year marriage to his queen, Katherine, has only produced one child, a girl named Mary. More children aren’t forthcoming and he wants out of the crumbling marriage. He becomes obsessed with Lady Anne Boleyn. The king’s quest for an heir and a way out of his marriage lay waste to his trusted circle of advisors including a once close friend, Cardinal Wolsey. Henry believes the only way out of the marriage is to break with Rome, the pope, and Catholic Europe so he can make himself head of a new church, grant himself a divorce, and marry Anne.
Thomas Cromwell, a man of Wolsey’s who survived the Cardinal’s political downfall, steps into the fray. He’s a former soldier, an opportunist, and always seems to get his way. He’s exactly the man the king needs to break his stalemate with Rome, establish a new religion, and marry and, hopefully, produce an heir with Anne.
I’ve had Wolf Hall sitting on my shelf for several months and I was really excited to finally pick it up. Unfortunately, I was not in the mood for this book which really disappointed me. That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy the book because I did, very much actually. But I didn’t become attached to any of the characters and if I had put this book down at any point, I probably would not have picked it back up again. Thankfully, I was traveling with this book and stuck in four airports which provided not only the opportunity but the will to finish reading it.
Henry VIII is manic — one day he loves you, hates you the next. Anne Boleyn is phenomenally mean, driven, and crazy but it’s so pitch perfect that you love her for it and thank Mantel for making her such an interesting character. Cromwell is a bully, sometimes mean, but most of the time subtle. He has an uncanny ability to understand people and know what they want and use it to his own ends. His family situation is bad as a child but, once he escapes, things turn around for him. I, however, didn’t feel anything for him. I didn’t like or dislike him, just felt nothing.
One annoying thing about this book, and I read this in another review and was ready for it, Cromwell is constantly referred to as he. I was looking for it and maybe that’s why it stuck out so much. Once I got used to it, it was fine though. And, no, I’m not trying to cause you any undue annoyance here, just pointing out something that will be abundantly obvious as soon as you finish the first paragraph. You’ll most likely get over as I did.
I will say this — the writing is fabulous and the entire story so wonderfully told. I just wish I had picked this one up at another time. It wasn’t what I was looking to read but I do see myself re-reading this book at some point in the future.
Normally I include a 1 to 5 rating with my reviews. I’m bypassing that this time. I’m conflicted about this book (as you might have already noticed, you can thank me later for pointing that out now) and I didn’t want to let my odd reading preferences color my review too much. So, take from all this what you will.