howlin’ wolves

To praise Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall is to join in a chorus of voices vast and loud (especially about a month and a half post-big buzz). What can I say, though? It rules.

Mantel tells the story of Thomas Cromwell, an oft-vilified player in the Henry VIII saga, from his humble and abusive origins as the son of a blacksmith through his rise at the court of Henry. I have no idea about the accuracy of Mantel’s story, nor how she did her research, but she provides a plausible, sympathetic tale about a man who is usually portrayed as a snakey pagan — Rasputin minus the creepy beard. As a person interested in history and historical fiction, I see this as quite a feat of imagination and execution. Cromwell has been a bad guy for a long time. Now I’m not so sure.

Another interesting aspect of Wolf Hall is its portrayal of women. I was acutely aware of how much work women did to earn and maintain power in Tudor England. Anne Boleyn uses sex to gain power, but she also uses her wits (the strain of all this power-mongering turns her into a paranoid weirdo — by the time that happens, though, you really can’t blame her). Catherine is steadfast in her resolve to keep Henry as her husband, and won’t let a bunch of men sway her into accepting the King’s wish to send her to a nunnery. Cromwell’s wife and daughters are interesting and nuanced. They take part in politics and give Cromwell advice. It was nice to see strong women so far in the past, making sure that they got what they wanted, and not leaving it all for the men to figure out.

Another note: this thing is a page turner. It rivaled Valley of the Dolls in its ability to completely consume my time and keep me up at night to finish chapters. Unlike Valley of the Dolls, however, Wolf Hall is beautifully written. I almost feel the need to read it again.

1 Response to “howlin’ wolves”

  1. 1 Pam
    February 10, 2010 at 12:39 am

    Heather–You made some excellent points about women’s roles. Cromwell’s transformation from Wolsey’s man to Henry’s chief adviser happens so gradually, you’re hardly aware. And did he abandon Wolsey? I was never sure. I will read it again, someday, and I thank you once more for giving it to me!

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February 2010
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