Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel, was kinda like one of those super serious films that won about a billion awards so you felt as though you should go to the movies and watch it. Except in the end you just sat there for the entire movie bored out of your brain, waiting for it to finish, and feeling as though more blood and guts could have livened things up for a bit. Wondering if you’re perhaps uncultured, you leave the cinema confused as to why everyone loved this film sooooo much.

This is how I felt about Wolf Hall.

Wolf Hall is a ‘historical novel’ that is unfortunately more history than it is novel. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind me a bit of history, but my knowledge of it, particularly English 16th century history, isn’t great. To put things into context of how bad I am at history, I once asked my dad (a history teacher) if Karl Marx was the unloved and unfunny third brother of the Marx brothers, thus why he created the whole communism thing (in my mind, this still makes logical sense). Anyway, I’m pretty sure my dad died a little that day. So honestly, my knowledge of Thomas Cromwell and even Henry the 8th isn’t great. So that might have been a factor into why I didn’t like Wolf Hall. In saying that, multiple friends have said they tried to read Wolf Hall and thought it was the driest thing ever, and only continued because it had won soooooo many awards.

Now in terms of writing, structure and plot development, Wolf Hall is excellent. The amount of time, effort and research I assume that Hilary Mantel put into this book is simply staggering when I give it any thought. Basically, in theory, I can see why people liked this book, and how it went on to win the Man Brooker Prize.

But. This wasn’t the book for me, and I think that mostly had to do with pacing and the subject matter. While Tudor history, and even English history itself, can be interesting, Mantel has delved further into the political aspects of the rise of Thomas Cromwell and Anne Boleyn, as opposed to the emotional or even violent nature of their actions. The result was that while there are incredible parts of the book, even more incredible when you consider they actually happened, they were lost in the sheer number of pages of political waffle that surrounded them. Instead of being appalled by Henry the 8th’s ability to fly in the face of history and the Catholic Church, I was confused as to who was right and who was wrong throughout the whole thing. While I was amazed by Anne Boleyn’s manipulative power over the most powerful person in England, I was underwhelmed by her presence in the novel.

Perhaps worst of all though, I didn’t even get to read about how Anne Boleyn or any of the other wives ended up beheaded, which is obviously the most tantalising bit of Tudor history. About halfway through Wolf Hall, I learnt that it was to be a trilogy, with all of the (hopefully) gory, and truly evil, actions to occur in the later books. How crushing.

I don’t think that Wolf Hall is a bad book, in fact I can see why it is liked by a certain type of person. But just like the Oscar-winning films from year to year, while I can appreciate their virtues, I don’t necessarily find them absorbing or entertaining. I’m willing to give anything a go in terms of reading material, but unfortunately I couldn’t get into Wolf Hall, and unless you’re a history buff or truly into politics, keep in mind that it may come across as very dry.

Have you read Wolf Hall or anything by Hilary Mantel? How good is your knowledge of Henry the 8th and his six wives? Let me know!

wolf hall by himary mantel

Wolf Hall – (image taken from http://www.d.gr-assets.com)