Wolf Hall and its sequel, Bring Up the Bodies, may be the most satisfying fictional accounts ever written about Henry VIII and his first three wives. The author, Hilary Mantel, writes gorgeous, elegant prose that is stylistically challenging to read but ultimately well-suited to the narrative, the historical period and the characters.
The familiar story of impetuous Henry VIII and his desire for an heir is presented through the point of view of his chief advisor, Thomas Cromwell. Influential in negotiating Henry’s divorce from his first wife and marriage to Anne Boleyn; in the king’s conflict with the Catholic Church and the execution of Thomas More; and in the controversial establishment of the Church of England and the dissolution of the Catholic monasteries, Cromwell has often been depicted as ruthless and evil. In Mantel’s story, he is an ambitious, pragmatic but ultimately likeable family man. Ever the king’s loyal and trusted minister, he is just as efficient at supplanting the unfortunate Anne with Henry’s third wife as he was at getting Anne into court in the first place.
Henry’s court teemed with colorful characters, and Mantel provides a handy list of who’s who in the front of each book. She spent five years researching Wolf Hall, and admits to keeping an extensive filing system with a card for each historical figure, using the historical record to verify that her characters were indeed where she depicted them on any particular date.
Wolf Hall won the Booker Prize and the National Book Critics’ Circle Award. Mantel is currently working on the third book of her trilogy, The Mirror and the Light.
Why not plan a little escape from the drama of election year politics and immerse yourself in Tudor England, where they really knew how to plot, scheme and obfuscate?