Book Review: Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

Tudor Rose

Hilary Mantel seems to sell well in book shops. She is well-liked by many fans and prize-givers. She has also some critics. I dare say, that she has worked hard on her historical facts. I must really respect that. Yet I was not completely won over.

Henry VIII & Two Anne’s, Three Catherine’s and One Jane

She comes up with Thomas Cromwell, a Tudor lawyer, as her protagonist. She tells us of his childhood, family, life and work as an important member in Henry VIII’s court. We are also introduced to the first two wifes of Henry VIII. Anne Boleyn, a local girl and Catherine of Aragon from Madrid. Catherine had been the queen for years, but had failed to provide Henry with a son. Only their daughter Mary had survived. Anne Boleyn seized the oppotunity and Henry VIII wished to have Anne as his queen. Wolsey and More failed to have Henry’s first marriage either to be dissolved or to arrange for a papal divorce. Thomas Cromwell, however, did not fail. As we all know, this all involved lots of religious struggles. Catholismn was not overturned just like that. Heads rolled and heads were rolled.

She also is a lawyer. It shows. The text and the story is approached in a legal style in my opinion. Lawyers need to prepare speeches for the court and this has proved useful. Lawyers do a lot of background work and this too has proved useful. She takes us into the times all right. She connects well with real historical facts. She identifies with the characters. Nevertheless this is historical fiction, not non-fiction. Therefore there is expectation of fluidity in the story line and in the structural construction of the book. And I expect from my favorite books also beauty of language. Don’t get me wrong, she is able to write. She also likes to entertain the reader with lists, humour, nursery rhymes, cultural connections and Greek legends. And I suspect, that she expects you to be pretty smart too in order to keep up with her. Do not worry, I can help you with that, if you wish to read Wolf Hall. Before you start with Wolf Hall, brush up your Tudor history and google Henry + his first two wifes, Thomas Cromwell, Thomas More and Thomas Wolsey. This will give you a real advantage in getting on and staying with the story. I should have done a more proper job on that… I did note that there would be lots of HE instead of names, and that her HE usually referred to Thomas Cromwell. That was good advice, and mostly remembered by me – though I did get caught with Fisher once… You may also like to note that my SHE refers mostly to Hilary Mantel.

Hever Castle

Anne Boleyn and my visit on a lovely summer day to Hever Castle was a factor in my choosing to read Wolf Hall. I was also considering getting to know Hilary Mantel at the time. I am now considering Hilary Mantel’s Bring Up the Bodies (sequel to Wolf Hall), even though I am hovering between three and four stars for Wolf Hall. Three because my interest in the story or Thomas Cromwell was not roused that high, four because the feel for the times was informative and thorough. As to Bring Up the Bodies, I believe that I just might understand it better and the life of Anne Boleyn is of interest to me too. Even if I fear that she may not like Anne Boleyn that much… having noticed that my own image of Anne Boleyn is changing, having read or actually listened to Simon Slater read it to me on the audible…

STARS: 4/5



  1. Yes, I agree with your views, I don’t understand this authors popularity. I read and enjoyed the book – but at present have no plans to read the sequel.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I studied British history in college, with special interest in the Tudor era, so I was pleased to pick up Wolf Hall at Heathrow for a good read as I returned to the US. I found it boring, improbable, and not worth bothering to finish. I haven’t bothered with the sequels. I’m always glad to find others who do not appreciate these books because I feel as if I ought to, but I don’t.

    Liked by 1 person

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