The first Booker Prize winner I ever tried to read was Hotel du Lac by Anita Brookner. I didn’t get on with it, and although it is a very short book, I believe I didn’t even bother to finish it. Since then, I have read a few of the winners, and a few of the short-listed, picking books that I think I would like. Many times, I have been right, and as a result, authors like Roddy Doyle, Ian McEwan and Pat Barker found their way onto my shelves.
I am currently half way through Wolf Hall, and I am so pleased I bought it – every page is a delight. Retelling the story surrounding Henry VIII and his desire to marry Anne Boleyn, and the political and church intrigue that results; our hero is Thomas Cromwell, whose nemesis is Thomas More, opponent to Reformation and persecutor of heretics.
This is such a turn-around from the normal depiction of More and Cromwell (most notably, in popular culture, in “A Man For All Seasons” by Robert Bolt, where More was depicted as a living saint), that you wonder if it ever could work. But it does work extremely well, and is quite believable.
The book is moderately long, but this enables Mantel to flesh out her characters, and show the reader that this is more than a story about a king lusting after a young woman – it is about whole families competing to create dynasties, and Boleyn herself is depicted as being intelligent, calculating and fully aware of the politics involved.
Quite simply, this is a must-read. It is a gripping page-turner, while also being quite amusing in parts. As Mantel has More say: “lock Cromwell in a deep dungeon in the morning and when you come back that night he’ll be sitting on a plush cushion eating larks’ tongues, and all the gaolers will owe him money”.