Before I started writing this, I popped on to Goodreads to find some reviews from people that did not enjoy it, because I knew there had to be some. Hilary Mantel’s style of writing is completely unique and individual – and one either loves or hates it, a bit like Marmite; there isn’t an in-between, as much as anything because a considerable amount of time needs to be invested in reading one of her works. Sure enough, the first two or three were predominantly negative – complaints about the fact that ‘he’ is used too often to designate who is speaking, which apparently confused many people – another criticising the authors over use of the colon.
I had absolutely no problem with either of these things! And I remember talking to Mum ten years ago when we both first read it, and, no surprise here, Mum had no problems either! Each to their own, of course, but certainly for me, re-reading this has been absolute bliss; (Ooops, there goes a colon!) I was delighted to be reminded just how brilliant it is, and possibly absorbed it better. It does make a difference when you can read and not be interrupted, one of the luxuries of living alone except for a dog!
Now I have to confess to being a bit of a history nerd – it was certainly my favourite subject at school, and in this splendid era of podcasts, my go to listening while I am working is always a history podcast. The first one I came across was Mike Duncan’s excellent History of Rome – I would also recommend Dan Carlin, especially ‘Armageddon’, his unforgettable 5 part take on the First World War, and ‘Wrath of the Khans’, a solid, enthusiastic and enthralling podcast about the Mongol Empire – and I am currently enjoying a ‘History of Britain’ by a guy called Jamie from Seattle, this guy knows his Angles from his Saxons, and his Norsemen… but I digress!
This is the first volume in a trilogy about Thomas Cromwell, the blacksmith’s son from Putney who became Chancellor to Henry VIII. It is meticulously researched, and for me, completely immersive – I was IN Tudor London while I was reading it! I’m currently deep into ‘Bring Up the Bodies’, which is the second book, and will then buy the newly released ‘The Light and the Mirror’ – they’re reading it on Radio 4 at the moment and I keep having to turn the radio off! It is a shame Mum won’t be able to finish the story, though.
For those who are not history nerds, there is a comprehensive cast of characters and family tree in the front, and, given that we have complicated dynasties like the Plantagenets and Tudors, multiple cousins, related European monarchs and illegitamacy, not to mention Henry’s swathe of spouses, I think this is a good thing.
The book opens with Cromwell as a child being beaten by his father. It is brutal in its description, be warned. We hear about his escape to Europe, but then we jump forward to the period when he was secretary to the charismatic and powerful Cardinal Wolsey, whose failure to secure the annulment of Henry’s marriage to Katherine of Aragon led to his downfall, beautifully described,..and the eventual accession of Cromwell. However, in later chapters, his horrendous, motherless childhood is quite often referred to, almost as if to excuse or explain the ruthless and calculating behaviour of this complicated self made man, who he became, what motivated him, who he loved and admired, and why. He doesn’t even know what his birth date is.
It concludes as Henry is beginning to notice Jane Seymour, (non-history nerds, she will become Wife 3 and die after delivering Henry’s only legitimate son. Anne Boleyn is repeatedly failing to provide a live male heir, although she has had Elizabeth, who will one day become that famous red-headed Queen), with a visit to Wolf Hall, the seat of the Seymour family. Anne Boleyn id failing to provide a male heir, although she has had Elizabeth, who will one day become Queen
I expect by now you have put two and two together and figured out I LOVED this book.. but if you have not read Hilary Mantel before, I’d suggest read a few pages before you buy. Mum’s copy is going down the road to a dear friend, Anne, who I suspect will be keeping pace with me for the trilogy… but if you can wait, Anne is wonderful at passing the book back if someone else wants to read it – I’ll let you know when it’s available again on the Facebook and Instagram pages!