Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Fiction Review: 'Wolf Hall' by Hilary Mantel

Well, I got through two thirds of it, by virtue of listening to the audiobook while I do other, more worthwhile, things. Like ironing. Eventually, I lost the will to live and stopped listening. Ive been putting off writing anything about this in case I get a sudden urge to pick it up again and carry on, but its not going to happen.

Theres a lot to enjoy in this book. There are wonderful characters, caught at a crucial moment in history. The author has captured to perfection the sights and sounds and smells of the Tudor era. Theres humour, too, from time to time. But theres just so much of it, every scene dragged out to many times the necessary length, endless discussion around meal tables with only a few meaningful lines. If it could have been distilled to normal book size, it would have been a very readable book. As it is, I found it plain tedious, especially after Wolseys demise.

For historians, it must be a thrill to see these important characters brought to vibrant life. For literary types, there is pleasure in the elegant language and apt turns of phrase. For me, as a reader looking for a story, it was a failure. There was no tension in the retelling of events to which every child knows the ending. The one character who needed to spring to life, Thomas Cromwell himself, was flatter than paper. He was described in the blurb as ambitious, and other characters mention him as a climber, yet we see no examples of it. On the contrary, he remains loyal to Wolsey to the end, and appears to luck into his role with the king. Hes hard working and intelligent, rather than conniving. We see something of his family life, but rarely see any signs of affection. And in the end, I didnt care about him, either, or any of them, with the possible exception of Wolsey. One star for a DNF.

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