Mantel, Hilary. Wolf Hall. Fourth Estate/Harper Collins 2009. F; 2/12.
Mixed feelings. Everybody is familiar with the English 16th century because of multiple movies and books, all centering around the immovably rectangular figure of Henry VIII. And his wives, and the church, and all the heads rolling.
So this quite prominent literary lady and historian takes a minority view of the character of Thomas Cromwell, historically construed as a brilliant self-interested Machiavellian backroom boy. With his pragmatic values in a religious ideologic setting she casts him as a modern morally ambivalent mensch, a bit of a fish out of water, a 21st century man in a past age. Somebody said the book is a modern novel that happens to be set in the 16th century. The writing is lovely and the story isn’t a dry historical treatise. There’s enough Punch and Judy to keep people who watch late-afternoon TV onside.
There were a couple of times when I thought something magically intriguing was going on, when Cromwell for example goes to a sleazy bar in Calais and meets a wizard dealing in secrets and some sort of time machine. But for me that and a lot of other beautifully-done characters and scenes end up overwhelmed by historical exigencies. She or her editor imagines this as keeping people in the right place at the right time.
Very long story. I spent the last fifth of the book waiting for it to end. 7.0