Hello, hello, hello! I’m on my holidays, and all I do all day is read and write and occasionally creep on other people’s social networking profiles. God I love how writing and reading make me productive even though I’ve literally not moved from the same spot all day. I did watch quite a few TV shows: loving Elementary, highly annoyed with American Horror Story: Coven (more on that later), about to restart Dexter and mayyyybbbee watch Mad Men. I’ll keep you posted, Because it’s so important for you to know what I’m doing every single week. Obviously. Duh.
(Im sorry I just really like talking about things I like I’m sure you do too???)
Anyway, because of all the reading, I just finished “Wolf Hall” by Hilary Mantel. It’s rather excellent and so I thought I’d discuss it here today.
The book surprised me as soon as I started reading it, by how approachable it is. There are surprisingly few words for which I had to run for the dictionary, considering it’s a 650 page historical novel about Thomas Cromwell’s rise to prominence, and the story is an attractive, engaging drama that pulls you in and keeps you there, even though it’s not edge-of-the-seat-suspense matter. I remember thinking, taken aback, this is a story I can imagine myself writing; I can see it being constructed: the research, the characters, the story, and finally the coming together of all of these. The greatness of some books (like 1984) lies in how impossibly difficult their creation seems to be; the greatness of “Wolf Hall” lies in the fact that it is a story that everyone knows, that anyone could have written, but here it is, retold complexly, poignantly and starkly in all its deceptive simplicity.
The novel is vast in its scope- the sheer number of characters makes it difficult to keep track of them sometimes and matters are not helped by the fact that many of them share the same first name. Thankfully, Mantel knows this and one can count on her to link back to the previous occasion on which we met them. The only place I found this link missing was, strangely enough, in her address of Cromwell himself: after a while, I learnt that at any point where the “he” has not been specified, or seems unrelated to the other male characters, is referring to Cromwell. This is repeated so constantly that it must be on purpose- indeed, Cromwell is hardly ever referred to by name, by the narrator, but I cannot deny that the ensuing confusion was distinctly annoying.
The real beauty and complexity of the novel lies in its creation of characters, and how it puts each individual figure in the larger context of pan-European politics. The biggest surprise is the development of Cromwell’s character. Most people will know him, as I did, as the tyrant who rose to power through an anomaly of time and circumstances. “Wolf Hall” provides an entirely different viewpoint: Cromwell’s character is nothing if not complicated, ambiguous and dynamic. He is the quintessential diplomat- pragmatic, resourceful and, yes, ambitious; he can soothe his enemies as capably as he soothes his master, King Henry the VIIIth. But essentially, he is the man his mentor Wolsey brought him up to be, without many of Wolsey’s faults: striding among kings and their whims, he does not lose his humanity, unlike so many of those about him. As a protagonist, you will root for him and fight with him until the end. The novel has many extremely likeable characters, and their dual nature is what makes the novel’s characterisations so powerful: one cannot help admire Thomas More’s principled defiance, even as he tortures heretics at the Tower; Queen Katherine could have cut a pathetic figure, but is instead endowed with a fierce rectitude.
Initially, I could find no connection between the title of the novel and its contents, because Wolf Hall itself is mentioned only in passing about thrice during the course of the novel, depicted as a distant place teeming with immoral savagery. Wikipedia helped out and I suddenly realised the truth: Wolf Hall is not the far-off land it is said to be in; it is right there, in the courts of London, in the streets of the capital, in the king’s palaces and the queen’s bedrooms, where man is wolf to man. The novel has some very remarkable quotes; the language is layered with imagery and metaphors and has a Nabokovian lilt to it that is very pleasant to read. The juggling between timelines is also interesting, although I wish it had been sustained throughout the story, because the uni-linear narrative does tend to get a bit tedious at times. But bursts of stream-of-consciousness studies relieve this almost instantly.
“Wolf Hall” is one of the most absorbing works I’ve read, less because of its historical significance and more because of the pure power of storytelling exhibited in it. I’m going to be honest- the book was an exhausting read, simply because of its length, but it is a journey worth taking.
If you found this review/ discussion/ amateurish rant stimulating, then give it a like!
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But please do share it via G+, Twitter, Facebook or E-mail. Tell me your thoughts: have you read it? If so, how did you find it? If not, would you like to, now?
Thanks and see you next time, hopefully really soon. I’ve got some exciting American Horror Story-related news coming up next week, stay tuned (??? that’s not the right phrase for a blog is it) for that! Now bye. Shoo. Go away. (ily)