Saturday, 17 July 2010

Keeping the wolves from the door

I have always been a fan of historical fiction so it is a surprise that I didn't pick up 'Wolf Hall' as soon as it landed on a bookshelf and devour it instantly. I think, perhaps, it has to do with the fact I'm not overly fond of Hilary Mantel.

So - as someone gave me a book voucher for my birthday (in March), I decided to dip my toe into the Mantel waters (white paperback, if anyone is interested). And I was hooked.

Charting the meteoric rise to fame and power of Thomas Cromwell, from his humble beginnings being beaten up by his father in Putney, to chief counsellor and confidante of Henry VIII, it is a book that is on the epic scale.

It might perhaps not be to everyone's taste. The way in which it is written can be a stumbling block. An entire narrative written in the present second person (he has fallen) can make it tricky at times to discern what is happening. Even Mantel appears to trip over at times - particularly in a three way male conversation, when there is a sometimes a need to state who exactly is talking. 'He, Cromwell' interrupts the flow slightly.

With this minor niggle set aside however, it truly is a fascinating book. It traverses history that is well known to most people, but with a fresh insight of one of the key string pullers. Cromwell has always had a bit of a bad reputation, seeing as how he was so involved with the events that shaped English history; but the man we are presented with is so human, full of mystery, passion and knowledge, that one can't help but warm to the man that became Wolsey's successor. Mantel leaves us as Cromwell seems to be reaching the apex of his power, but we all know how the tale will finish.

Mantel is currently planning a second volume but has already said she will find it hard to write the final disastrous and bloody ending. I know I'll find it hard to read, although I am already filled with anticipation, for if the second volume is like the first, I'll be rushing through it at great speed!

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