Thursday, February 18, 2010

Book Review: Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

A while ago, I posted about participating in the Complete Booker 2010 Challenge. Well, I finally finished the first Booker Prize winner - Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel, which just so happens to be the 2009 winner. This was an easy first choice since this book was already on my tbr list.

Wolf Hall is a novel that deals with the reign of Henry VIII during the time period when he was striving to divorce Katherine of Aragon so that he could marry Anne Boleyn. There are plenty of books, both fiction and non-fiction, covering this topic, and I've read quite a few of them. But Wolf Hall is unique in that it is presented from the point of view of Thomas Cromwell, Henry's chief minister, and the man who made Henry's divorce and remarriage(s) possible. I have a fascination for this period in English history and I've read many books about this time period. But Wolf Hall is the first one I have read that presents the story from Cromwell's perspective. I found it interesting to see the events from his eyes. It was also illuminating to see the other major players in this drama as Cromwell might have viewed them. As often as I've read and studied the Tudor period, it is always interesting to come at it from another direction.


As much as I enjoyed Wolf Hall, I'm not sure it's for everyone. It's a very detailed account of the events of the period and unless the reader has an interest in this topic, I think it could be a bit dense. It took me almost two weeks to finish this book, which is about three times longer than I normally spend reading a book. If I didn't have a real fascination with the topic, I doubt I would have finished it. And I think this may be part and parcel of reading award winning books. They are denser and heavier than their non-award winning counterparts. And this is the very reason why I wanted to participate in this challenge. I'm ready to stretch myself in my reading. For the past 13 years or so I've been reading primarily contemporary literary fiction. And I would classify Wolf Hall as literary fiction. A genre I've struggled with in the past. Part of the problem is that I'm impatient. I want to read a book quickly so that I can move on to the next one on my tbr list. I had to keep reminding myself while reading this book that this is not a race. These more literary books are meant to be savored, like a luscious multi-course meal at a classy restaurant. But I must admit that I'm now deep into a wonderful contemporary literary fiction book* and I'm just so thrilled to be devouring it quickly. I think for me, literary fiction, like super fancy meals in super fancy restaurant, is meant to be enjoyed infrequently. My everyday reading needs to be something I can devour with gusto. But who knows? Maybe by the time I finish this Booker Challenge, I'll be wanting to enjoy those sophisticated reads more frequently. We'll see....

I would give Wolf Hall 3 stars - I liked it.

The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox by Maggie O'Farrell (book review coming soon).

9 comments:

tori said...

I have been facinated with that time peroid too and have read a bunch of books on the subject, so maybe I would like this one too. Everything you said in this post sounds so much like me (except I don't read that fast!).
I just started reading award winners (the last 3 library visits) and have really enjoyed it.
I bookmarked this site and I think I'll give it a try too! sounds fun :)

Jen said...

Thanks for the review, Pam! I think I'm going to check this book out. I'm actually related to Catherine Howard and Anne Boelyn -- two of Henry VIII's wives. So, I think I have a slight interest in the topic. :-)

Midlife Jobhunter said...

Pam, I don't think your "normal" reading cannot be considered literary. You always have a fine repertoire of choices. The Booker books are difficult reads - God of Small Things, I believe, took me forever and my normal load is much lighter than yours. I'll be interested to follow as you move through this challenge.

MissKris said...

I must admit my reading tends to be of lighter stuff at this stage of life. I don't have the time or mind focus right now to delve into the deeper stuff. In my youth and younger years I read some of the classics but now I read 'easy' novels by the likes of Anita Shreve, Elizabeth Berg...along those lines. Can't say I'm into romance but I do like women's novels. With doing day care for the grandboys and menopausal lack of attention span...well, just trying to FIND time to read is a major undertaking! But I do manage it in spurts. I read two books this past weekend! Yay for me! ;-P

Sandy said...

If this took you two weeks to finish, I'd be at it until summer. Although I do have an interest in the period, others that sound similar that I have started were left unfinished. There are so many books......

Debbie said...

I don't think this one is for me! That's why I love you - you keep me from reading books that aren't my thing:)

Confessions From A Working Mom said...

You always recommend the best books!!! I am a huge fan of this type of fiction too. I've read all the Philippa Gregory books, and I'm adding this to my reading list too. You're better than a book club :)

~Elizabeth
Confessions From A Working Mom

ModernMom said...

I love that your review is so honest!

Karen said...

I am absolutely fascinated with the time period. I have to admit, though, that I never cared much about Thomas Cromwell until I watched...The Tudors...Isn't that horrible??

Now, I am completely fascinated with him and his place in history. So this book sounds like one I'll have to add to my list!

 

Blog Design By Lindsey Joy Design © All Rights Reserved.