It took me about a hundred pages or so to get used to the novelty of present-tense in a work of historical fiction (as well as the constant references to Thomas Cromwell as “he”) but Wolf Hall is so absorbing, Mantel’s Cromwell so charming, and her evocation of Tudor London so powerful that I have to say her stylistic choice was absolutely perfect. You probably already know the outlines of the story (Henry VIII’s infatuation with Anne Boleyn leading to his contested divorce with Catherine of Aragon and the end of England’s ties to Rome) so it’s the telling of this tale that is so outstanding; Mantel goes well beyond the facts of the matter and she’s one of the few novelists of Tudor England whom I’ve read (and yes, I’ve read lots because I’m fascinated by the period!) who realizes England wasn’t in a vacuum – Cromwell knows German scholars and Italian merchants and even the minor characters like Eustace Chapuys, the Spanish ambassador, just leap off the page. I know I will be re-reading this, though first I will, of course, read the sequel, Bring Up the Bodies, which sounds just as good!
(Read from January 2-January 4, 2013)