Between all the end of teacher training madness and Jubilee celebrations I found time to finally finish Wolf Hall. This is the second time I have read this novel, the first being for a book club I don’t really remember, apart from that mad rush when you realise the meeting is in 2 hours and you still have 150 pages to go. Perhaps this rush is why I have blocked the first reading from my memory. Luckily my second reading was much more enjoyable.
My favourite aspect of historical fiction is the sense I get of knowing the characters and their fate, yet not knowing them at all. The Tudors and the many fascinating people who played a part in their reign have been reincarnated in so many different forms, from the amazing Philippa Gregory novels to the biographical works of Antonia Fraser and the brilliant TV show that was shown on the BBC, and yet they still seem to draw in readers, novelists, viewers and whoever is in charge of making TV programmes. Perhaps this is because, as Mantel states in the ‘About the Author’ section ‘The Tudors are the great national soap opera, when have we ever had a Royal family renowned for their determination and love of chopping off people’s heads?
As I have mentioned there is a lot of fiction and non-fiction based on The Tudors, the vast majority of which centres on Henry VIII’s numerous wives, so Mantel’s focus on the rise of Thomas Cromwell is, for me, a refreshing take on such a well-known chapter of British history. I loved discovering more about the enigma of Cromwell and how he came to become such a powerful figure in the court of Henry VIII. The beauty of this novel is that Mantel ends it with Cromwell on a high, we have yet to witness his fall from grace, but the tantalising thing is, the reader knows it is coming – the author can only twist and turn the tale so much, the fate of our characters will always be the same. This has made me eager to read Bringing Up The Bodies however the book buying ban is going to hinder this desire slightly.
I particularly enjoyed how Mantel portrays the relationship between Cromwell and Thomas More, which is summed up perfectly in the lines
‘He thinks, I remembered you, Thomas More, but you didn’t remember me. You never even saw me coming.’
I know Cromwell is far from being a good guy, but Thomas More is just insufferable. For me, he made Cromwell more appealing and more human. Of course I am going to favour the man who mourns the loss of his wife and shows a reluctance and remorse when ordered to oversee executions than the self-righteous More who comes across as hypocritical, narrow-minded and just plain horrible to his own wife. But then history isn’t as black and white as that, and I have essentially been manipulated by Mantel’s fantastic story telling, and I am not ashamed to admit that.
I was entirely swept along in the novel, transported from what was my sunny back garden in 21st century Britain (the weather didn’t last long) right back to Tudor London, and to be honest that is all I really want from a novel – to become so engrossed and to believe so fully in the setting, plot, characters etc, that I forget where I actually am! Luckily for me, Mantel fulfilled this need and has inspired me to read more of her books and to rewatch The Tudors, daydreaming about the lovely Jonathan Rhys Meyer and Henry Cavill in the process…don’t worry I am well aware they are unrealistic portrayals; the real Tudors wouldn’t have been anywhere near as attractive, but a girl can dream!