Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

This book has opened a door to a new obsession for me: English history. Though this is a novel, it made me look at history with new eyes and be interested in the lives of all those who were its main characters. 

Before I read Wolf Hall I thought Cromwell was basically a villain, an unscrupulous, selfish man that advised the King to get what was in Cromwell’s best interest, not necessarily England’s or even the King’s.  He was the one to blame for the execution of Thomas More and all the bloody deeds Henry VIII carried out in order to get what he wanted. But after reading this book, I was once again reminded that nothing is black and white and that Cromwell was a human being, not a villain from a Disney movie. Mantel portrays him as someone who is indeed manipulative, very smart and opportunistic, but with a sensitive side, the human side, which can also show mercy, generosity and even courage. The same happens with Thomas More, according to Mantel’s point of view he is not the impeccable saint and martyr everyone thinks him to be, he is, just like Cromwell, a flawed man, with virtues and a dark side. It was a refreshing experience to read about them in a complex and complete way.

Thomas Cromwell

I’m not going into specifics about the plot of the book because we all know about Henry’s reign and the successes and failures in Cromwell’s life. The important thing here is the perspective under which we are able to see the protagonists of this complicated period of time, which is an entirely new experience because thanks to Hilary Mantel’s detailed work, they are now colorful human beings, not just dry lines in a history book.

Henry VIII
As I read the novel, all those familiar names and stories came alive before my eyes and made me really think and reflect about the time, and how everything that took place back then has had an impact on us. Events that took place back then changed life for us now and it is an exciting thing to be able to sink into that world with the help of Mantel’s imagination (based on her extensive research and work, this is not one of those books that mixes up the dates and events and changes the outcome of things, it is the imaginative storytelling of what actually happened, she is filling in the voids of the intimate lives and characteristics of everyone involved in these events).

Since I finished reading Wolf Hall I have read two history books about the Tudors: Tudors (The History of England Vol. 2) by Peter Ackroyd and The Wives of Henry the Eighth and the Parts they played in History by Martin Andrew Sharp Hume. I am really interested in reading more about this famous dynasty and I want to focus now a little bit more on Elizabeth I, because it is the perfect context reading for my Shakespeare project. 

Anne Boleyn
I have already ordered Wolf Hall's sequel called Bring Up the Bodies and I can’t wait to read it. Wolf Hall has been a very important book in my reading experience this year because it has set the tone for what I want to read the rest of the year. I want to focus on the parts of history I love and on the context of Shakespeare’s life and works. This second-half of 2013 is going to be very Elizabethan. 

I strongly recommend to the history buffs out there to read Wolf Hall, I’m pretty sure you are going to love it.


Lucy said...

This is a great review! The book seems fascinating. I always enjoy reading about history, so I'm not quite sure why I haven't read it yet.

I'm also glad that Wolf Hall has inspired your further reading for 2013. You're a great example of reading archeologically :P

I'll be sure to let you know if I read Wolf Hall!

Good luck learning more about English history :)

Melissa Vizcarra said...

Thank you so much for the lovely comment Lucy! If you enjoy reading about history, then this book is a must. :)