This book advances not a single of my goals, but it is a Booker Winner and was on the 2010 Orange Prize Shortlist, and I have loved every minute of it during the car ride to and from work. Read it. It will make you want to know all about the ins and outs of British history, and it will turn you into a huge Hilary Mantel fan, or at least it will if you are at all like me. Here’s my Goodreads review:
“Chapuys greets him without a smile. ‘Well, you have succeeded where the cardinal failed, Henry has what he wants at last. I say to my master, who is capable of looking at these things impartially, it is a pity from Henry’s point of view that he did not take up Cromwell years ago. His affairs would have gone on much better.’ He is about to say, the cardinal taught me everything, but Chapuys talks over him. ‘When the cardinal came to a closed door he would flatter it–oh beautiful yielding door! Then he would try tricking it open. And you are just the same, just the same.’ He pours himself some of the duke’s present. ‘But in the last resort, you just kick it in.'”
Not the most flattering portrait of Cromwell, but Chapuys and the emperor he serves have just lost a battle of minds and wills with the Tudor court. Hilary Mantel is clearly a warm and respectful fan of Thomas Cromwell (not the Cromwell with whom you are probably more familiar, a relation several generations down the road), and after reading Wolf Hall you will be too. He is a smart, ambitious, but also loyal and kind, adviser to Henry VIII who came from nothing and became one of the most powerful men in Europe. He did so amid a court full of angling and intrigue, and in a time where the wrong beliefs or alliances could lead to death by beheading if you were lucky, and by more gruesome means if you weren’t.
This was another book I started to read because I felt I should, but almost immediately was reading because I was completely captivated by the world Mantel had pulled me into. I really need to give up my bias against pre-20th century historical fiction. This stuff is marvelous. I can’t wait to read Bring Up the Bodies, which continues the tale.