"The king spoke, saying to the wise men of Babylon, 'Whoever reads this writing, and tells me its interpretation, shall be clothed with purple and have a chain of gold around his neck; and he shall be the third ruler in the kingdom.'" -- Daniel 5:7 (NKJV)
Despite the elaborate praise that has accompanied Wolf Hall, I found it hard to get excited about the prospect of reading once again about Henry the Eighth. Within a few pages, I was totally disarmed by Hilary Mantel's unique story-telling style. She moves away from what historians focus on (the big events and the most powerful people) to emphasize character as portrayed in the little events. As a result, Henry the Eighth is at the edge of this book, rather than in the center.
Wolf Hall is primarily the story of Thomas Cromwell and his pursuit of helpful solutions for all those he comes into contact with, provided in the context of utter loyalty . . . first to Cardinal Wolsey and later to Henry the Eighth, Anne Boleyn, and those who depend on Cromwell.
The book is so wonderfully subtle that I found myself rereading many sections, smiling at the various ways that story threads are developed (usually in several ways, overtly and subtly, at the same time). As a result, the story is fresh, new, and very interesting both for content and style.
After reading about half the book, I had an epiphany . . . This book was also designed to be improved by being read aloud, as are all of the best novels. I managed to find a copy of Simon Slater's reading of the unabridged version and was wonderfully rewarded by listening to what I had just read. It was four times better as a recording than in my silent reading.
I recommend you forget reading the book and just listen to it instead. You'll be amazed.
Was I convinced by her portrayal of Thomas Cromwell? I don't know the historical record well enough to have an opinion. I certainly ended up with a revised view of Sir Thomas More (having been a fan of "A Man for All Seasons" as a lad) after thinking about him in the context of the Reformation.
Listen and be filled with joy.