I love to read great historical fiction, with the reign of Henry VIII being one of my favorite
subjects, and you can usually count on winners of the Man Booker Award to be great novels. However,
Wolf Hall did not meet up with my expectations. Thomas Cromwell was the son of a blacksmith
who managed to rise to power at a time when royalty dominated that scene. I had hoped that Mantel
would show Thomas Cromwell as a sympathetic and likable character, but he failed to come to life
for me in this novel.
Cromwell first makes his appearance as the child of a very abusive father. After escaping and
being on his own for a number of years, Thomas eventually rose to power in the court of Henry VIII.
The role that he played in Henry's conflict with the Catholic Church over his marriage to Katherine
of Aragon is the main focus of Wolf Hall. Cromwell is portrayed as a forward-thinking man
who wanted to reform England. The history is accurate and well researched, but the story didn't
bring forth any new ideas and was confusing in places. There are a number of people with the same
names (Henry, Thomas, Anne, and Mary), and the author often neglected to specify which one she was
referring to in the text and in the dialogue.
Mantel did manage to include just about everyone who had any presence in King Henry's court, so
there are many characters, and the scope of the story is immense. I did enjoy the debates between
Cardinal Wolsey and Cromwell, and Thomas More and Cromwell, and they are imagined in depth. Mantel
promises a sequel that will likely span the remainder of Cromwell's life.