One of my many reading challenges this year is to read at least five Man Booker Prize winners (the rest of the list can be viewed here). Continuing with my challenge, I decided to read Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel which won the Man Booker Prize for Fiction in 2009. As someone who absolutely loved historical fiction set in the Tudor period as a teenager, I have read so many different versions of the same story that I wasn't sure whether to read this for quite a while, thinking I knew the story inside out already and that it had got a bit tired. I decided to give it a go and here is what I thought about it:
In a nutshell: I really enjoyed Wolf Hall and will definitely be reading the sequel, Bring up the Bodies.
Would you recommend this book? I would recommend it to anybody who likes historical fiction or Tudor history (or both!). If you’re the sort of person who likes a quick read though, this might not be for you.
How quickly did you read it? It took me a couple of weeks to read. The writing style in particular took some getting used to. In saying that, once I was into the book, I read the last 350 pages in a day. My paperback edition has 651 pages if you’re interested in how long it is.
Why did you choose to read this book? I am a history lover and as this book and its sequel have both won the Booker Prize, I decided that this would be a good way to continue with my reading challenge and reacquaint me with the Tudor period in a fun way. Plus the BBC adaptation starts this Wednesday so I thought I should read it before I watch it!
Favourite aspect of the book? Ah so so much to choose from! I love Thomas Cromwell’s one-liners. I love the descriptions of different areas of London. I love the references to Cicero, and I love the fact that it is the story that we have all heard in school history lessons, in period television dramas and in films, but told from a point of view of a different ‘player’ in the game – one, being honest, I didn't know a great deal about before reading.
I think what I love most about Wolf Hall is that this book feels incredibly well researched on Hilary Mantel’s part and backed up by historical sources. It doesn't feel like history ‘dumbed down’ as some books on the period feel – It shows the inner workings of the court of Henry VIII and its complexities in detail, including minor ‘players’, family histories and foreign ambassadors along the way.
Anything you didn't like? If there was one thing that I didn't like about the book it was that sometimes, particularly at the beginning, I struggled with the writing style a bit. It relies heavily on the word ‘he’ and in some scenes where there are several men in the room it was difficult to work out who exactly was saying or doing what and quite a few times I had to go back a couple of paragraphs to try and work out what was going on. Somehow though, I really got used to the style and realised that, for the most part, ‘he’ is referring to Cromwell himself. I can appreciate that some people put the book down though due to it being a bit hard to follow at points.
Any additional thoughts? I won’t give anything away but I love that the book is called Wolf Hall. Unless you are really into Tudor history then its significance might not be clear right away but as you progress, all is revealed!
Deserving of the Man Booker Prize? I have only read two Man Booker Prize winners in addition to this (The Ghost Road by Pat Barker and Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro) but this seems to be deserving in my eyes and I will most definitely be reading Bring up the Bodies and the third in the Cromwell trilogy once it comes out.