Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall exalts historical fiction to triumphant heights. The novel chronicles the reign of Henry the Eighth during the tumultuous years that put Anne Boleyn on the throne. The story is told through the character of Thomas Cromwell, a commoner who rises to prominence as a close adviser to Cardinal Wolsey and Henry himself. Thomas Cromwell is one of the greatest protagonists I have encountered: brilliant, witty, complex. He seems too wise, too traveled, too everything, to be true at times, and yet, he remains believable, and “entirely beloved,” as Wolsey called him (apparently in reality). He is a character whose wisdom will stay with me for a long time.
All of Mantel’s characters are exquisitely developed. It is impossible not to get engulfed in the intrigues of the plot. The novel is dialogue driven, which is challenging, but Mantel pulls it off masterfully.
I have been trying to read this book for at least two years, but the prose is extremely rich, and the reader does not want to miss a word: not one nimble exchange, raise of an eyebrow, nor intentional omission of a name that will have later significance. Unable to give it the attention deserved, I finally decided to listen to the audiobook. This was a great choice: the narrator, Simon Slater, embodies the characters perfectly with the voices he chooses. I sometimes had to remind myself the characters are not people I actually know.
This is a dense book. It is not a light summer read. It is more appropriate for long winter days when you are stuck inside and need to get lost in a book. And what a novel in which to lose yourself! A triumph.