Wolf Hall Readalong: Post 3

Saturday, December 17, 2011

I finished it!! I am feeling pretty victorious about it, as I was so intimidated at first. I'm not even sure where to start, as far as describing my final feelings.

I guess I'll start with the tumult of the kingdom. This book ends before Henry and Anne fall to pieces, but you can see the evidence of their relationship fraying at the seams. I think Mantel does an excellent job at exposing how very real and confusing situations like that can be, and how well we mask them with our own perceptions of what we think is actually happening.

And then we have Cromwell, who orchestrates everything behind the scenes with complete and total control. He appeases kings and disgruntled dukes, seamlessly weasels his way into being owed a favor by Stephen Gardiner, his chief rival. He is invaluable to Henry and Anne, who look to him to fix every situation. He is seemingly immune to Anne Boleyn's allure, an allure that has captivated almost every man at court, and he is so esteemed by King Henry that he is visited personally in his home by the king when he is ill.

Cromwell's own personal life isn't quite so seamlessly organized; he still misses his deceased wife, Liz, his children and wards make marriages that he doesn't quite approve, he gets sick for what might be the first time in his life. However, he is constantly endearing; he is surprised when people tell him he looks like a murderer (who wouldn't be?); he is pleased with his children's accomplishments (children being a loose term that envelops all the people in his household); he finds himself drawn by the shy, sweet Jane Seymour. I felt as if with every page I loved Cromwell more and more.

And the writing style was so unique, somewhat disjointed and jarring at times, but so powerful and different and evocative. I didn't only know about Cromwell; I felt as if I was with him, I had the feel of him in the room. I haven't felt this close to a character in a long time, and I loved it.

My one complaint with the book was the end -- I felt cheated not to know what role Thomas would play in the dissolution of Anne and Henry's marriage (if he in fact had a role to play); how he would feel to see Jane Seymour courted and married by Henry. I gave in and looked up the Tudors online and learned that Cromwell was actually executed by Henry a few years after the events of Wolf Hall take place. I was sad that this book didn't show it and felt as if Mantel had taken the easy way out.

However, I found out yesterday that she has written a sequel to Wolf Hall called Bring Up the Bodies, to be published in May 2012. I will definitely be on the lookout for that. So now that I know I will have more closure, I have no complaints. Wolf Hall was exquisitely written and executed and I will be recommending it far and wide.


  1. I'm so glad we finished, YAY! It did feel like quite the arduous journey for me and I was spent when I read the last page. I also fell in love with this version of Cromwell and oh, how I wish he had pursued something with Jane Seymour. Can't imagine how devastated he must have felt; or probably Cromwell would have been slightly pained but then thrown himself back into work full force again.

    While I'm starting to get really tired of series and trilogies, I understand that a subject like this is not something that can really be told in one pass. Mantel will write more and I'll be picking them up again. Maybe another regroup this year for book 2 when it comes out?!

    I hate, hate how Cromwell was executed. I don't know if I can stomach reading that, though :( Which means, Mantel has done a phenomenal job in making me care, or fall in love, with her writing and her portrayal of the characters. It just makes me feel so bad of what the end result for Cromwell will be.

  2. Hooray for finishers! I felt pretty triumphant when I finished Wolf Hall (at 9:00 on Sunday night!). Like you, I was feeling that the book ended on a note of incompleteness-and as I was looking around for background info on the novel, found out that it is the first volume in a projected trilogy. I already knew that Cromwell was executed in 1540, and knew what was coming for Anne Boleyn--so it is not so much the destination, but the getting there that counts. I'm very curious about the decisions that led Mantel to portray Cromwell so positively, as it is More who was lionized in previous histories. I'm definitely looking forward to the next volume. By the way, what a well-written and concise review-I'm still processing!

  3. I have been putting this book off for two years now, but your review makes me want to stop worrying and Just Read It this year. Thanks for whetting my appetite, which badly needed it.

  4. @Natalie -- I don't know much about Cromwell other than what occurs in this book but I think he will be a hard character to say goodbye to. I think Henry VIII, despite the way he is sometimes portrayed as forgivable in fiction, is one of the worst people in history, because he was so obsessed with getting his way. I can't wait for this next book!

    @bibliophiliac -- I want to read some different insights on Cromwell, as well. I've heard that he isn't as positively viewed in A Man for all Seasons, which is on Netflix instant play -- probably going to watch that soon!

    @J.G. -- Seriously read it! It is AMAZING.


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