“The world is not run from where he thinks…not from castle walls, but from counting houses, not by the call of the bugle but by the click of the abacus, not by the grate and click of the mechanism of the gun but by the scrape of the pen on the page of the promissory note that pays for the gun and the gunsmith and the powder and shot”
Wolf Hall ~ Hilary Mantel
As always, I’m late to the show. Hilary Mantel won the Man Booker Prize for Wolf Hall way back in 2009 when frankly, the very girth of the book was enough to put me off. Over the last few years, I’ve developed a taste for Historical Fiction, around the same time I finally accepted Hawaiian pizza as a part of my diet. Not saying it has anything to do with the other, just an odd collision of events in my life. Since then, as with Hawaiian pizza, there has been no looking back. I cannot help but rant a little about the Historical Fiction form, before I go into how I felt about Wolf Hall, do forgive me. The genre, if well written, and if even half believable can send one into a tizzy of visceral experiences; they assume an almost cinematic grandeur. Dark shadowy rooms, writing by the candlelight, men on horses and women fanning themselves and powdering their noses. Then of course, there are those ones that are rooted in inhumane crimes, slavery, racism, poor living conditions, colonialism etc. Those are not the ones I “love” reading about, although I do read them for the literature. Historical Fiction, for me, is at its best when they serve as an escape from the reality of “now”, my version of Fantasy Fiction.
Now, Wolf Hall, is that and so much more. I’ve been reading other reviewers’ comments who thought the book was a whole lot of hard work; the writing was inscrutable and one needs to be well versed in Tudor history to be able to truly enjoy the book. I wouldn’t agree with those comments necessarily. For me, Mantel displayed high art, a craftsmanship and an ability to use the nuances and machinery of grammar better than most other writers have the balls (if you may) to.
The book is based in the early 1500’s and has never claimed to be factual. To say that it is a fictionalised biography of Thomas Cromwell’s life would be an understatement. There is literally no documented explanation how a supposed blacksmith’s son rose to power and assumed the position of King Henry VIII’s most trusted advisor. Mantel made it up, but there is so much joy in her fiction. I bought it. Thomas Cromwell who is usually scorned by history, painted as an evil monstrosity who criminalised his way through to the King’s favour and brought about the execution of the “saintly” Thomas More – for the first time has been lent an ear.
I cannot praise the book enough for how it engrossed me, made it visually appealing (I love it when a book can do that) and most importantly, made me laugh.
Why you should read the book:
- If you like Historical Fiction, especially British monarchical dramas
- For a different take on British history’s black sheep
- To be challenged as a reader (I will admit the book isn’t an easy read)
Why you shouldn’t read the book:
- If Historical Fiction appeals to you only if grounded in research
- If you’ve had enough of the Tudors and their, even then, First World problems
- If experimental writing, in sentence construction, would discourage you from finishing the book