2009 Man Booker Prize
2009 National Book Critic's Circle
In this masterpiece (and its equally excellent sequel, Bring Up the Bodies), Hilary Mantel accomplishes the unthinkable: she breathes new life into the story of Henry VIII. I understand your skepticism — I didn't think it was possible either! — but somehow, magically, she has done just that. Everything about Wolf Hall is meticulous, from the research to the language to the characterization, and while this level of detail can often feel forced or overly structured, to me the writing felt natural and even a bit wild in its audacity and confidence. This isn't a casual reading experience — the book is long and you feel compelled to take it seriously, drawing it out in order to pay attention to and savor every word — but you will come away from it moved and profoundly changed. Recommended By Leah C., Powells.com
Synopses & Reviews
In the ruthless arena of King Henry VIII's court, only one man dares to gamble his life to win the kings favor and ascend to the heights of political power
England in the 1520s is a heartbeat from disaster. If the king dies without a male heir, the country could be destroyed by civil war. Henry VIII wants to annul his marriage of twenty years, and marry Anne Boleyn. The pope and most of Europe opposes him. The quest for the kings freedom destroys his adviser, the brilliant Cardinal Wolsey, and leaves a power vacuum.
Into this impasse steps Thomas Cromwell. Cromwell is a wholly original man, a charmer and a bully, both idealist and opportunist, astute in reading people and a demon of energy: he is also a consummate politician, hardened by his personal losses, implacable in his ambition. But Henry is volatile: one day tender, one day murderous. Cromwell helps him break the opposition, but what will be the price of his triumph?
In inimitable style, Hilary Mantel presents a picture of a half-made society on the cusp of change, where individuals fight or embrace their fate with passion and courage. With a vast array of characters, overflowing with incident, the novel re-creates an era when the personal and political are separated by a hairbreadth, where success brings unlimited power but a single failure means death.
"Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall is a startling achievement, a brilliant historical novel focused on the rise to power of a figure exceedingly unlikely, on the face of things, to arouse any sympathy at all....This is a novel too in which nothing is wasted, and nothing completely disappears." Stephen Greenblatt, The New York Review of Books
"Wolf Hall is a magnificent service to the language and literature whose early emancipation it depicts and also, in its demystifying of one of history's wickedest men, a service to the justice that Josephine Tey first demanded in The Daughter of Time." Atlantic
"Whether we accept Ms. Mantel's reading of history or not, her characters have a lifeblood of their own.... Her prose is muscular, avoiding cod Tudor dialogue and going for direct modern English. The result is Ms Mantel's best novel yet." Economist
"A novel both fresh and finely wrought: a brilliant portrait of a society in the throes of disorienting change, anchored by a penetrating character study of Henry's formidable advisor, Thomas Cromwell. It's no wonder that her masterful book just won this year's Booker Prize...[Mantel's prose is] extraordinarily flexible, subtle, and shrewd." Washington Post
"[Mantel's] interest is in the question of good and evil as it applies to people who wield great power....She has read Shakespeare closely. One also hears the accents of the young James Joyce." New Yorker
"Wolf Hall has epic scale but lyric texture. Its 500-plus pages turn quickly, winged and falconlike....both spellbinding and believable." New York Times Book Review
"Mantel's abilities to channel the life and lexicon of the past are nothing short of astonishing. She burrows down through the historical record to uncover the tiniest, most telling details, evoking the minutiae of history as vividly as its grand sweep. The dialogue is so convincing that she seems to have been, in another life, a stenographer taking notes in the taverns and palaces of England." Ross King, Los Angeles Times
"Darkly magnificent...Instead of bringing the past to us, her writing, brilliant and black, launches us disconcertingly into the past. We are space-time travelers landed in an alien world." Boston Globe
"Arch, elegant, richly detailed...[Wolf Hall's] main characters are scorchingly well rendered. And their sharp-clawed machinations are presented with nonstop verve in a book that can compress a wealth of incisiveness into a very few well-chosen words." New York Times
"[Mantel's] style implies enormous respect for her readers, as if she believes that we are as intelligent and empathetic as she is, and one of the acute pleasures of reading her books is that we sometimes find ourselves living up to those expectations." Bookforum
In the ruthless arena of King Henry VIII's court, only one man, Thomas Cromwell, dares to gamble his life to win the king's favor and ascend to the heights of political power. In inimitable style, Mantel presents a picture of a half-made society on the cusp of change, where individuals fight or embrace their fate with passion and courage.
About the Author
Hilary Mantel is the bestselling author of many novels including Wolf Hall, which won the Man Booker Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction. Bring Up the Bodies, Book Two of the Thomas Cromwell Trilogy, was also awarded the Man Booker Prize and the Costa Book Award. She is also the author of A Change of Climate, A Place of Greater Safety, Eight Months on Ghazzah Street, An Experiment in Love, The Giant, O'Brien, Fludd, Beyond Black, Every Day Is Mother's Day, and Vacant Possession. She has also written a memoir, Giving Up the Ghost. Mantel was the winner of the Hawthornden Prize, and her reviews and essays have appeared in The New York Times, The New York Review of Books, and the London Review of Books. She lives in England with her husband.