Wolf Hall - Book of the Month
by Hilary Mantel
Thomas Cromwell has been described as Alastair Campbell with an axe - and that is what makes this novel so intriguing: it is about the man who makes other men; whose machinations control the balance of power and who is adept at the backstage manoeuvres of a chief press officer. Yet the Thomas Cromwell of WOLF HALL is also a progressive humanist, impatient with religiosity; a loving family man who treats his servants well; a man of the people who believes in a more equitable society; and a cosmopolitan linguist who is upset by Holbein’s portrait that makes him look like a murderer. It is said of him that he can “draft a contract, train a falcon, draw a map, stop a street fight, furnish a house and fix a jury”.
It is a fascinating portrait of the man as well as the time in which he lived, and for this WOLF HALL has deservedly won prizes and plaudits. However, it is not an easy read or a page turner: it is 650 pages that demand concentration. Mantel eschews the techniques that grab the reader and keep them in thrall – no compelling narrative arc, inner voice, cliff-hangers or stereotypical characters here – nor does she explain or talk down to the reader. Instead, she reveals the intense and dangerous entanglements of Tudor politics through Cromwell’s eyes. From his cool perspective, we witness scene after scene from the man’s life, which, with subtle and nuanced dialogue, build a mesmerising picture of the “unknowable, the inconstruable, the probably indefeasible Master Cromwell”.
WOLF HALL has already won the Booker Prize and is long-listed for the Orange Prize. It is also short-listed for the inaugural Walter Scott prize for historical fiction and has certainly upped the game for that genre.
Read our interview with Hilary Mantel.