Go backstage during the most dramatic period in English history: the reign of Henry VIII.
England, the 1520s. Henry VIII is on the throne, but has no heir. Cardinal Wolsey is his chief advisor, charged with securing the divorce the pope refuses to grant. Into this atmosphere of distrust and need comes Thomas Cromwell, first as Wolsey's clerk, and later his successor.
Cromwell is a wholly original man: the son of a brutal blacksmith, a political genius, a briber, a charmer, a bully, a man with a delicate and deadly expertise in manipulating people and events. Ruthless in pursuit of his own interests, he is as ambitious in his wider politics as he is for himself. His reforming agenda is carried out in the grip of a self-interested parliament and a king who fluctuates between romantic passions and murderous rages.
From one of our finest living writers, WOLF HALL is that very rare thing: a truly great English novel, one that explores the intersection of individual psychology and wider politics. With a vast array of characters, and richly overflowing with incident, it peels back history to show us Tudor England as a half-made society, moulding itself with great passion, suffering and courage.
A word to the wise. Do not undertake the reading of this book lightly. Clocking it at 650 pages, this book will consume your time from the moment you pick it up to when you finally put it down. Hilary Mantel takes one of history's most maligned characters, Thomas Cromwell, and weaves a history and a life from the scant facts we know, giving him depth and dare I say it, a likeability that other fictionalised adaptations of Cromwell have not been so lucky to possess. This first volume in what is now to be a three volume saga covers the period of time from Cromwell's youth through to his machinations behind the throne to secure the marriage of King Henry to his lover, Anne Boleyn. The history comes alive as you read and though, as I said, there are over 600 pages, not a one is wasted.
Reviewed by 42bj