Set in Tudor England, Henry VIII is on the throne but his wife Katherine has failed to give him an heir.
Cardinal Wolsey is charged with securing his divorce so that he can marry Anne Boleyn.
Into this atmosphere of distrust comes Thomas Cromwell - a man as ruthlessly 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.
I think I am probably one of the last people on earth to only just be getting around to reading this novel. My intentions were good. I purchased a copy ages ago but it just sat gathering dust on my bookshelf waiting to be read. When I saw the BBC were making a television series based on this book and its sequel Bring up the Bodies and which starts this evening, I thought it was high time to get it read.
My initial impressions were that it was a bit difficult to get into. This was not helped by the fact that so many of the characters were called Thomas and it was tricky at times to differentiate between the different characters. I think this is a classic case of the truth being stranger than fiction as I cannot imagine if one was working with fictional characters that any author would call so many of the characters by the same name. However, Ms Mantel has been true to her sources in this respect.
This is not a quick read. At 688 pages, it is a long book and at times the narrative felt a little convoluted but as I read on I began to see the necessity of the prose being written in this way. This is not a light historical novel but a book which has been painstakingly researched and written in a way that demonstrates the complexities of the age. Every word in the narrative has been carefully considered and then placed within the prose where it will best have meaning.
Hilary Mantel's writing style is both intelligent and exquisite and although the prose felt a little heavy going at times I still found this a pleasure to read.
I am very intrigued as to how the BBC will condense this book and its sequel into a 6 part dramatisation. I will certainly be in front of my television this evening to see how this adaptation has been handled.
ISBN: 978 0008126445
Publisher: Fourth Estate
Price (based on today’s price at Amazon.co.uk): £3.85
About the author:
Hilary Mantel is the author of thirteen books , including A Place of Greater Safety, Beyond Black, and the memoir Giving up the Ghost. Her two most recent novels, Wolf Hall and its sequel Bring up the Bodies have both been awarded The Man Booker Prize - an unprecedented achievement. In 2006 Hilary was awarded a CBE for her contribution to literature.