I’m steadily working my way through the nation’s 100 favourite books according to World Book Night’s poll in 2011. Find out more about this challenge and check my progress here.
Alias Grace, a couple of books ago, put me in the mood for more historical fiction, so I picked up Wolf Hall, Hilary Mantel’s Booker winning novel chronicling the life and times of Thomas Cromwell as he goes from abused but hardy child languishing in poverty to advisor to King Henry VIII. Cromwell played a crucial role in the annulment of Henry’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon, making Henry’s second marriage to Anne Boleyn possible, but later fell from favour when he arranged the disastrous third marriage to Anne of Cleves. This book covers Cromwell’s rise to success, and though it finishes with him at the peak of his influence, there’s also a sense of foreboding; those with any knowledge of English history will be aware that Cromwell’s success is short lived; just five years later his head will roll.
The scale of Wolf Hall is simply breathtaking. It takes on the politics of Tudor Britain and the domestics of life at that time, but hangs them all on the frame of a man who is so charismatic and magnetic that he carries it all with ease. Cromwell is for once painted quite sympathetically, as a smart and capable man; the underdog who has deservedly come out on top. This isn’t the easiest read in the world, and its heft can definitely be offputting, but I’d try to convince anyone to persevere. The sequel, Bring up the Bodies, is currently on my shelves, glinting at me in its tempting golden cover. I want to save it until I’ve finished this challenge, but at this stage I’m not promising anything!