Book Review – WOLF HALL by Hilary Mantel

Wolf Hall Synopsis

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

England in the 1520s is a heartbeat from disaster. If the king dies without a male heir, the country could be destroyed by civil war. Henry VIII wants to annul his marriage of twenty years and marry Anne Boleyn. The pope and most of Europe opposes him. Into this impasse steps Thomas Cromwell: a wholly original man, a charmer and a bully, both idealist and opportunist, astute in reading people, and implacable in his ambition. But Henry is volatile: one day tender, one day murderous. Cromwell helps him break the opposition, but what will be the price of his triumph?



After Hilary Mantel became the first woman to be awarded the Man Booker Prize twice, I thought it was high time I investigated what all the fuss was about. While I like historical fiction, I have read very little set as far back as the 1500s, and had heard there were an inordinate number of characters to keep track of. I often find a great narrator makes distinguishing between characters less hard work so I thought I might tackle this behemoth of a novel via audio.

I experienced conflicting feelings during the 21 hours of this audio book (yes, I did finish it).

But I must stress those feelings were in no way due to the narrator, Simon Slater. I actually think he did a great job – very rarely was I confused as to which character was speaking, despite the many oblique references and reflective jaunts of the text.

While on the literary journey that is Wolf Hall, I went through cycles something like this:

Ah, how clever… Yes, very nice… Okay, that’s interesting… Yes, I get the point…. All right, enough already!

There is no doubt author Hilary Mantel displays a particular mastery of British English.

There is no doubt she can set a scene and craft characters with uncommon depth and nuance.

There is no doubt she can weave drama and irony into the fabric of the seemingly mundane.

But what I do doubt is her having been taught in her formative years the valuable lesson of ‘less is often more’.

On several occasions I found myself pondering, at what point does the marginal return from adding bells and whistles to a product, or in this case literary flourishes and mythical tangents, become negative and start detracting value. It seems the literary award judges are working from a different boundary map than mine…

Despite my aversion to the excess at times, I am glad that I read Wolf Hall because I now have a much greater understanding and appreciation for the role historical figures, that I had previously only heard of, played in British history.

Although I would love to know what happens to Thomas Cromwell (the fictional character, or more so how, since I have since read up on this history), at this point I have no urge to rush out and get myself a copy of Bring Up The Bodies. This is despite it winning Mantel the Man Booker Prize for the second time and hearing the audio narration by Simon Vance is outstanding. Life is just too short and there are so many other fantastic books out there. But, you just never know, the good old rose coloured glasses may come into play one day…

BOOK RATING: The Story 3 / 5 ; The Writing 4 / 5

Disclosure: If you click a link in this post we may earn a small commission to help offset our running costs.

Have you read Wolf Hall? Do you want to?

Join the discussion.

BOOK DETAILS: Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel ( Amazon | Audible | Booktopia | Kobobooks )

Genre: Literature, Historical, Drama, Romance, Audio

Author Information: Hilary Mantel CBE was born in Derbyshire, England on 6 July 1952. She studied Law at the London School of Economics and Sheffield University. She was employed as a social worker, and lived in Botswana for five years, followed by four years in Saudi Arabia, before returning to Britain in the mid-1980s.

Her books include Eight Months on Ghazzah Street (1988); Fludd (1989) winner of the Winifred Holtby Memorial Prize, the Cheltenham Prize and the Southern Arts Literature Prize; A Place of Greater Safety (1992), winner of the Sunday Express Book of the Year award; A Change of Climate (1994); An Experiment in Love (1995), winner of the 1996 Hawthornden Prize; Beyond Black (2005), shortlisted for a 2006 Commonwealth Writers Prize and for the 2006 Orange Prize for Fiction and long-listed for the Man Booker Prize; and Wolf Hall (2009). She won her second Booker Prize for the 2012 novel, Bring Up the Bodies, the second instalment of the Thomas Cromwell Trilogy. This made her the first woman to receive the award twice. The Mirror and the Light is the title of the Thomas Cromwell Trilogy’s final instalment.

– Hilary Mantel tells the Guardian: How I came to write Wolf Hall

Other reviews of Wolf Hall: The Guardian ; The New Yorker ; Danielle Hearts Books ; Page Plucker ; BlogCritics