Posted by: Corri van de Stege | January 20, 2010

Hilary Mantel – Wolf Hall

Am racing through Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall on my new e-reader: I’m taking it with me on trains, to hotels and am picking it up wherever I am (station platforms, waiting rooms, etc).  It’s a fascinating book, it’s drawing me into an interest in the Tudor dynasty.  I seem to remember, only very vaguely, having seen ‘A man for all season’, years and years and years ago.  At the time this history was somehow fascinating but quite alien (not being English), more like a story about a far-away land with strange habits and mores.  Mantel’s book does away with all that: it’s about a real person, Cromwell, and she makes him a very human person indeed, someone who is actually quite likeable, who looks at the world through a wide-angled lense, who is shrewd but caring (for his own family and the people living with him), who has had a ‘battered’ childhood, ran away but came back to England.  What’s not to like?

Well, the nobles around him don’t really like his ascendancy – he is a start up, someone who has made good, is making good, but who will ultimately come to his downfall.  Only the book is not there yet – I’m still at the stage where Henry VIII has married his second wife, Anne Boleyn, against the wishes of the Pope and the catholic church, but with Cromwell’s support.  The rest of the country appears to see Anne as the concubine, the one who usurped the status of queen from Katherine, Henry’s first wife.  And there is the desperate desire for a boy, an heir to the throne, after Henry.  Cromwell is at the height of his power, just made the second in command, more or less.  We know of course that it is not going to last, but somehow, whilst reading, you wish there was a different ending.  Because you’ve started to quite like the man.

Mantel has made Cromwell a real person, not a character in a play or in far-away history.  No, he is flesh and blood, who mourns his dead wife and daughters (who succumbed to ‘the fever’) and with one son and newphews and nieces as well as other family members he cares for, deeply.  He is a man that does not forget his own childhood, with Walter, his father, beating him senseless until his escape from Putney to Europe where somehow or other he makes good and then, back in England, first in the service of Wolsey, the cardinal who loses Henry’s trust, and then the slow ascendancy to high office, Henry’s trusted servant.

It is a wonderful read and near perfect in style.  We observe the world and feel it as it must have been in the 16th century, in the 1520s and 30s.  Highly recommended.  The paperback will be out in March.


  1. Which e-reader are using?
    Would you care to give a review of it?

    • I use the Sony – happy to review, now that I’m becoming hooked…

  2. Thank you. I’d be very glad to hear your opinion.
    Which one do you have, 5″, 6″, or maybe even the 7″screen?
    We can’t get the latter, The Daily Edition, here in Canada.
    So I’m seriously thinking of getting the PRS-600, the 6″.
    I read a lot of pdf’s, and need to know if that is going to be comfortable. I’ve tried it in the shop and found it to be so-so.

    Is Donner nog het beste boekenwinkel in Rotterdam?
    Eens een favoriete plekje van mij.

  3. Richard: post is up. I do indeed have the PRS-600 and I like it… But see my reservations on the PDF.
    Wat Donner betreft: inderdaad ik geloof van wel – het is al wel weer een paar jaar geleden dat ik op een (kort) bezoek in Rotterdam was.

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