Book Review – “Wolf Hall” by Hillary Mantel

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By Herndon Hasty (Digital Performance Manager)

When people talk about the beauty of Shakespeare, it’s always about the language. The stories he told were usually someone else’s from antiquity or from just far enough away that no one would likely notice, and the twists he added weren’t especially groundbreaking.

But the way he told them, the turns of phrase he created and even the words he brought into existence were what marked him out for praise and high school hatred 500 years later.

Hillary Mantel’s Wolf Hall was good enough to win every literary prize in the UK it was up for for similar reasons. The story is one that many people are familiar with: Henry VIII’s quest for a male heir, Anne Boleyn’s rise, and the cast of characters around them. However, it does add an interesting twist as it centers around Thomas Cromwell, an individual who’s usually a side character during this saga – and a shifty, hated one at that. Bringing new biographical facts to light, the genius that allowed him to successfully navigate a tough situation in a very dangerous time is much more center stage. His background as a banker – a rare trade in that day – and merchant add a businesslike atmosphere to the proceedings.

Our household is a little biased on this matter. As it turns out, he’s an ancestor of my wife, and as it turns out he famously had an ancestor of mine – Thomas Moore – beheaded during this time period. Thanks, Ancestry.com!

The unique perspective, though, is only a scant piece of the book’s brilliance. The approach is unusual – written in the same perspective as stage directions, it might take reading about 20 pages just to get a feel and momentum – well worth it, in order to get to the stark but rich language that Mantel brings to Wolf Hall and its sequel, Bring Up The Bodies. Out of respect . fear of copyright laws, I won’t pour out the full measure of quotes that I’d love to, but for a sampling, check out its Good Reads page.

Around this time last year, if you’re a person who even occasionally finds yourself on PBS, you probably started hearing about the TV series of the books. Much like a work on the opposite end of the spectrum, The Hitchiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, the true beauty and humor of the work is in how the story is told and what cannot be said, only described. You can watch the show, too. But do not miss the books.

So, in winter’s waning days when you still might have long stretches of staying in from the weather in front of you, I can’t recommend enough picking up Wolf Hall and Bring Up The Bodies – if you start now, you’ll have time enough to get in a good, satisfactory second reading in time for its third installment The Mirror And The Light to arrive in 2017.

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