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A few chapters in and loving it, Tudor history is one of my fave periods and this takes it from a whole different perspective. More when I've read more.

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I would like to learn more about Cromwell and his place in history but is this the best place to find it?

 

I am always wary of reading very long books. From experience, I rarely finish them, but is this really worth me devoting a couple of weeks of evenings reading this?

 

Phoebus

Phoebus, o distant relative , it absoulutely is worth it. It will tell you lots about history but it will also enrich your life. We carry images of these times in our heads from Holbein portraits and historic houses but Mantel employs her language to make you feel you are there from the inside out. You see and feel it all in four dimensions, maybe more :) In this novel Mantel turns conventional writing inside out and the effect is stunning. Brilliant!

 

I'm trying to read a run-of-the-mill novel now and it's not easy :( .

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Agreed, this is a superb novel. It is incredibly rich yet at times the descriptions are spare and tight . It makes Cromwell's world seem real. The history seems pretty accurate, as much as any novel can be and I dont keep getting the oh dear they wouldnt have thought/said that or used that expression thing. Its beautifully told and certainly one of the best books I have picked up in a long time.

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Support for this book seems unanimously positive - surely this means that it can't possibly win the Booker on Tuesday?!

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I'm nearly 200 pages into this and am finding quite a bit staid in parts (especially those about Cromwell, himself !). Tell me that it gets better !

 

 

Phoebus

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Well, I’ve finally finished it. I enjoyed parts of it but felt that there should have been some serious editing. It was too long a little long-winded.

 

I felt much the same about The Northern Clemency, also published by 4th Estate.

 

I’m pleased I read it but I don’t think I’ll be reading nother Mantel, at least not for some time.

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Well, I’ve finally finished it. I enjoyed parts of it but felt that there should have been some serious editing. It was too long a little long-winded.

 

I felt much the same about The Northern Clemency, also published by 4th Estate.

 

I’m pleased I read it but I don’t think I’ll be reading nother Mantel, at least not for some time.

 

Phoebus, don't let Wolf Hall put you off Mantel. I liked it very much but I can see that some might find it heavy, especially if they aren't interested in the history. Part of my fascination with it was because I didn't know the details of that period so for me it was informative as well as being enjoyable. But many Mantel books are far less weighty than Wolf Hall. I'd recommend An Experiment in Love and her short stories.

 

As for The Northern Clemency, I liked it a lot but then I like fiction about families full of ordinary life events which others may find dull. His other novels are very different - The Mulberry Empire is my favourite, it's a historical novel and very rich in atmosphere. The Fit is my least favourite of his novels but then he allegedly wrote it in only a few weeks as part of a bet :-)

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I always think, though, that I shouldn't post reviews until I've thought about them for a week. For example, I thought that The Glass Room didn’t keep pace although I still can’t get it out of my mind.

 

Reading my copy of The Sunday Time this morning, I noticed a detailed review of “The Lady in the Tower: The Fall of Anne Bolyn” by Alison Weir.

 

The book concludes:

 

“… that Cromwell after quarrelling with Anne and putting his career in grave jeopardy, decided to stage a coup. He devised the charges on whatever information was to hand, rigged the trails and later claimed that some of the evidence was “so abominable” it couldn’t be given in court.

Step forward Eustace Chapuys, the Spanish ambassador at Henry’s court…”

 

Having read Wolf Hall allowed me to read the review with interest and the review allowed me to realise that the book, Wolf Hall, gave me greater interest and insight than the history books of the period had provided me.

 

Wolf Hall – at some times a difficult but nevertheless a rewarding read.

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I am about half way through and enjoying it - but with one major reservation. There are lots of engaging characters, lots of action, and fascinating portraits of historical characters. But my reservation is about the confusion caused by Mantel's narrative style. She uses "he" mostly to refer to Thomas Cromwell but not exclusively. This means I am left wondering who she referring to, who said what, who interpreted the King's dream for instance, and I have to read back to try and work it out. Like others I have read many admiring reviews of this book and I am surprised no reviewer has pointed out the unnecessary confusion caused by the author failing to make clear who is talking, thinking, acting.

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I actually liked working out who was speaking and felt it was an integral part of the Wolf Hall reading experience, not an irritating stylistic mistake. Generally it was Thomas Cromwell's viewpoint, and yet you are forced over and over again to both see him at a distance and from the inside.

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the unnecessary confusion caused by the author failing to make clear who is talking, thinking, acting
I actually liked working out who was speaking and felt it was an integral part of the Wolf Hall reading experience, not an irritating stylistic mistake. Generally it was Thomas Cromwell's viewpoint, and yet you are forced over and over again to both see him at a distance and from the inside
I said on the "Currently reading" thread that I was trying to avoid getting totally engrossed in Wolf Hall, but after about sixty pages I'm totally hooked. (So I'm never going to have the time to get ready for leaving for England on Thursday - but too bad, I'll just have to take my shirts to the dry-cleaner's so I can spend time reading Mantel instead of ironing…)

 

Anyway... it seems pretty clear to me that Mantel is in total control of her writing. It's sometimes difficult, but it's meant to be. As Brightphoebus says, the narrative is constructed so as to slant things from Cromwell's viewpoint, but without involving the reader's total identification with him… so that you start to question his motives, integrity etc. He's clearly a highly ambiguous character.

 

You do have to read it carefully. For example, here's page 47:

They arrived on a Sunday, two vengeful grandees: the Duke of Norfolk a bright-eyed hawk, the Duke of Suffolk just as keen. They told the cardinal he was dismissed as Lord Chancellor, and demanded he hand over the Great Seal of England. He, Cromwell, touched the cardinal's arm. A hurried conference. The cardinal turned back to them, gracious: it appears a written request from the king is necessary; have you one? Oh: careless of you. It requires a lot of face to keep so calm; but then the cardinal has face.

Here, the words: "it appears a written request from the king is necessary; have you one? Oh: careless of you" presumably have to be understood as being spoken aloud, even though there are no quotation marks to indicate direct speech.

 

It's not always easy; in the account of Katherine of Aragon's arrival in England, there's a potentially confusing reference to "the old king", and it's not immediately obvious that this is a reference to Henry VII, while Katherine was wed to the king's eldest son, Arthur, and then to Henry VIII.

 

It's important here, I feel, to have some elementary knowledge of the historical background.

 

Anyway, this is clearly one of the best Booker winners ever. And I've only read sixty pages…

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I am now beginning to get a grip of this and following it a lot better. I have taken your advice and read the list of characters which helped enormously, but felt that the family trees were a bit too confusing to attempt and intend to indulge in a little Wiki history about Thomas Cromwell wich may help - only ever heard of Oliver Cromwell and wondering where he fits in, which is no doubt adding to my confusion. Nearly halfway through and will probably stick to the end.

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only ever heard of Oliver Cromwell and wondering where he fits in
Bascially, he doesn't, LMBC. The more famous Oliver Cromwell was a good century later on.

 

According to Wikipedia he was descended from the sister of Thomas Cromwell, but it's not explained why he came to be called Cromwell, as the sister wouldn't have handed down her maiden name - would she?

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Bascially, he doesn't, LMBC. The more famous Oliver Cromwell was a good century later on.

 

According to Wikipedia he was descended from the sister of Thomas Cromwell, but it's not explained why he came to be called Cromwell, as the sister wouldn't have handed down her maiden name - would she?

Well, that just proves my lack of historical knowledge. Wouldn't have thought that his sister would have handed down her maiden name so a mystery to be solved. I'll have a look around today.

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But Christendom was overturned for the Boleyn marriage, to put the ginger pig in the cradle... [p604]
The "ginger pig" being the infant girl, born late in the novel, who will be the future Elizabeth I, some twenty-three years after the novel reaches its conclusion - at which point her unfortunate mother, Anne Boleyn, is already falling into marital disfavour, with Jane Seymour, the future third wife of Henry VIII, already distinctly present on the horizon...

 

Wolf Hall is a magnificent work of art: it is a feast of words and images, and a mine of historical information. Its brilliant achievement is to bridge the gap - and it is, after all, a gap of almost five centuries - between events of the mid-16th century and what is going on in early 21st-century fiction...

 

In reference to earlier queries and hesitations, I reckon the reader can get by pretty well with pretty scant knowledge of the period, though it does help to understand one essential thing, namely that this was the precise period at which England dramatically cut itself off from Catholicism, thus bringing, almost by definition, as it were, the Church of England into being (with Henry VIII having the chutzpah to make himself the head of it... and if you didn't like it you could sod off...)

 

I was rather taken to task for comparing Sebastian Barry's The Secret Scripture [EDIT: looking back, it was Rose Tremain's The Road Home...] to George Eliot - although all I had in fact meant to say was that Tremain succeeded in showing that the most ordinary, humdrum lives are very special from the point of view of those living them (and from that of their loved ones, of course...) But this time it is the venerable Diane Athill who states that: "I can't think of anything since Middlemarch which so convincingly builds a world" - and, without having read anything like as much as her, I honestly can't think of any novel other than Middlemarch which made me feel I could inhabit and relate to a remote period (Middlemarch itself, it will be remembered, deals with a period forty years prior to the publication of the novel, so that it is, if less obviously, a historical novel too.)

 

The following excerpt gives a good flavour of the style of Wolf Hall:

This summer of 1533 has been a summer of cloudless days, of strawberry feasts in London gardens, the drone of fumbling bees, warm evenings to stroll under rose arbours and hear from the allées the sound of young gentlemen quarrelling over their bowls.
Mantel's prose is a prose which attaches importance to sights, sounds and smells - some of them distinctly less pleasant than that of strawberries and of roses... including the smell of roasting flesh, reminding the reader that this was a period when people were put to death in very public circumstances. They were hanged, they were beheaded, and, perhaps most distressingly, they were burnt alive... The terrible violence of the times, not just on distant battlefields but in the heart of London, is omnipresent in Mantel's novel, which begins with its central character, Thomas Cromwell, being beaten to within an inch of his life by his terrifying father, and fleeing from England while still an adolescent. The details of his years abroad are only rendered in quick, subjectively presented flashbacks, but, whatever happened in his years of self-exile, it was the making of one of the most influential men in Tudor England.

 

I class Wolf Hall among the very best novels I've ever read. A source of amazement and gooseflesh in equal quantity. Those who hope to be in contention for this coming year's Booker prize have one hell of a lot to emulate.

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Has anyone read Wolf Hall and not loved it? I'm holding out for the paperback and getting very impatient.
I'm reading it just now and struggling somewhat. I interrupted it for some light relief with The Turn of the Screw and have yet to go back to it. I don't know if it's just me though, as I'm about 400 pages in and I don't usually last that long if I don't like the book so it's not badly written or anything like that but I am having trouble trying to figure out what is going on.

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Finally, and with some sorrow, I have decided to abandon Wolf Hall. I just cannot keep up with the story and I have struggled with too many books just recently to want to continue to struggle with this one.

 

It's not a bad book by any means but I find it totally confusing and life is too short to spend another 200 pages wondering what's going on and if it will make any more sense.

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I just finished reading wolf hall. I found the way she refers to Cromwell as "He" confusing sometimes. There was quite a few cases where she could have been referring to another character. You get used to it after the first few chapters and learn to associate "he" with Cromwell.

 

I got a bit hindered with some of the references to greek philosophers and the various protestant reformers. Also keeping track of names and who's who was difficult (I found the bibliography of characters at the start of the book extremely useful).

 

Apart from that I thought it was brilliant and I never expected it to make me laugh. I'm going to read more of Hilary Mantel.

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I started this last weekend. Not much time for reading at the moment, but I did grab an hour on the train on Monday which helped. Thoroughly enjoying it so far - the machinations and intrigue remind me of Frank Herbert's first Dune book!

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Wolf Hall kept me quiet for a couple of weeks. Long historical novels do not usually appeal, but this one is passably good, though more history than novel, if you know what I mean. I'll try to explain: the story is not all that interesting and most of us know the facts. What I expect from fiction is to see the world from inside the skull of the central character. Here, I found myself saying 'Who's this speaking now?' Then I'd have to check back because the 'speaker' usually Cromwell, true, didn't have a particular voice. He sounded pretty much like all the other historical figures. Of course he's obsessed by his mission to solve the succession issue, devoted to the archbishop and intriguing on his behalf with the king. Sure he's got a 'conflict' that sine qua non of fiction, but I didn't feel it that deeply. I'd appreciate a less obviously historical struggle, say, whether his beard needs trimming or not. That's the sort of thing that keeps people awake at night, not whether to support a king or an archbishop. To me it was all fancy dress, dressing up history for the plain man's comsumption. Maybe that simply means I don't care for the genre, although that can't be true either, or I wouldn't have raved about Beryl Bainbridge's According to Sweeney (qv). But I am only halfway through, God help me!

 

Then there's all the hype - 33 encomiums all from highly respectable quarters in my paperback edition. The cover tells me this is 'The most gripping book you'll ever read.' Wrong! The Telegraph digs out that old cliche 'beautifully written.' Wrong again! When I find colloquialisms like 'go it alone' 'right off!' 'cash up front' 'Bet?' (Try wanna bet!) amd 'slaps him down' I know I'm in the Twenty-first Century and I start to wonder about 'beautifully written.'

 

So, too many characters, insufficiently differentiated, an over-complicated, difficult to follow story (I challenge anyone to read it without at least one finger in the pre-pages) and over 600 pages. That's what you need to win the Booker? I'm not holding my breath for the sequel.

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