Born in 1952, Hilary Mantel is a novelist, short story writer, and critic. Mantel began studying at the London School of Economics before transferring to the University of Sheffield where she graduated with a degree in jurisprudence. While employed as a social worker after her studies, Mantel began writing. After a decade of travel with her husband, Mantel published her first novel, Every Day is Mother’s Day, in 1985. On the heels of her first novel, Mantel found employment as a film critic for The Spectator. Over the course of her writing career, Mantel has won the Winifred Holtby Memorial Prize for Fludd, the Sunday Express Book of the Year for A Place of Greater Safety, the Hawthornden Prize for An Experiment in Love, the MIND “Book of the Year” for Giving Up the Ghost, and the prestigious Man Booker Prize for
Wolf Hall. In 2006, Mantel was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire
Editor’s Note: This book review functions as a second take to the perspective previously posted.
History Come Alive
The time of kings, frivolity, and large discontent is what inspired Hilary Mantel to pen her novel, “Wolf Hall”. Elegantly written, she plows through the controversy that is Thomas Cromwell, creating a believable and plausible tale of conversations that might have taken place.
Historical and literary works following Cromwell’s life generally portray him as a manipulative calculating individual, as opposed to the generally held “hero” of the time period, Sir Thomas Moore. Mantel, however, chooses to flip the roles, and portray Cromwell in a kinder light, though she still portrays him as somewhat manipulative.
|The Portrait of Thomas Cromwell
In one particular chapter of the book that stood out to me, entitled “The Painter’s Eye”, Mantel chooses to focus on a painting of Cromwell. Cromwell asks his son Gregory to review it. After Gregory silently judging the painting for some time, a conversation ensues. Cromwell laments, “‘I fear Mark was right.’ ‘Who is Mark?’ ‘A silly little boy who runs after George Boleyn. I once heard him say I looked like a murderer.’ Gregory says, ‘Did you not know’” (432)?
Cromwell, completely unaware of how he acts around others, surely was startled by this affirmation of his evil gaze. As this passage suggests, Mantel captures the heart of her characters impeccably. She perhaps managed to gaze into a past that no modern person will acknowledge: that perhaps Cromwell wasn’t as bad as he is historically painted. Maybe there is even a slight chance that Moore isn’t the saintly hero history has labeled him. Plausibility is what makes this novel sing.
Brevity isn’t Mantel’s gift. Wolf Hall
is 532 pages in length, rivaling behemoth classics in scope and substance such as The Grapes of Wrath
(619 pages), or War and Peace
(1,225 pages). The length would have deterred me if I was not reading it with a group of gentleman, and I love
reading. So, I would recommend this book to those who have a large portion of patience, or an exceeding interest in the times of the Tudors. Mantel’s writing is amazing, with picturesque scenes of beauty, and horrific scenes of torture and death. But, it does go on. And on.