Wolf Hall, winner of several prizes, including the Man Booker 2010. When this book by Hilary Mantel won the Man Booker Prize, it was prominently displayed in book store windows – multiple copies – it seemed to be everywhere. I resisted – it looked too thick. But now I have found it in paperback, still just as thick – 650 pages – but it seemed more reasonable, particularly if the store was offering it in one of those 3 for 2 deals. I didn’t care about the 3 for 2 sticker but I did buy the book as one I wanted to read sometime and put it up on the shelf along with Gone With the Wind. Well, readers of this blog will know that I recently read GWTW. Now I’ve turned to Wolf Hall.
I, like other readers, am finding it hard to put down and find it more than worthy of its prizes. However, I find that that favorable judgement is not universal. Some people find it hard going, and if so I recommend you turn to something else. It is set in the 1520’s and ’30’s and explores in detail the intrigues and intricacies of the Tudor Court, as experienced through the eyes of Thomas Cromwell. I am comparing the novel with other work that I have seen or read about this period. The portrait of Thomas More is quite different from the man portrayed in the film A Man for All Seasons. And I recently saw the DVD of The Other Boleyn Girl – again in Wolf Hall I am seeing these historical figures from another angle. I understand that Hilary Mantel spent 5 years researching this novel to be sure she had her vast cast of characters in the right place at the right time. It is obvious that her research has been very thorough. Her use of language is a joy.
I particularly like the way she writes about the wool trade and the textiles of that time in history. She is constantly making references to knitting and weaving and needlework. Several of her references about rug making struck me particularly, referring to the type of knot that was used. I suspect that Hilary has personal skills in the area of knitting and weaving. And also I like the way she writes metaphors referring to these arts – for example, she describes a character as appearing “small and tense, as if someone has knitted her and drawn the stitches too tight.” Hilary might also be a lawn bowler, judging by her descriptions of Henry VIII playing a game of bowls. Or maybe this just reflects the thoroughness of her research.