Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Book Club - Wolf Hall

I read a few of the books that our church book club read last year, but haven't made it to a meeting yet. I'm planning to get there next weekend though - after 600+ pages, a bit of discussion is warranted, I think.

The book was Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall - a novelisation of the life of Thomas Cromwell, who is a key player in the saga of Henry VIII's divorce of his first wife, Katherine, and marriage to Anne Boleyn. 

I enjoyed the book, and once I'd waded through the first 200 pages, the rest went quite quickly. My impressions are unfortunately clouded by a personal pet peeve: the title of the book has almost nothing to do with the book itself. The Seymours, who live at Wolf Hall, are characters in the book, but the story ends well before Jane Seymour becomes Henry's next wife. Maybe the author uses the title as a foreshadowing of the future. Whatever the reason, it left a bad taste in my mouth.

Other than that, it's a good read. The cast of characters list at the beginning is worth having, and I'm still confused about where a few of them fit, but the lives and characters of the main players are quite artfully revealed as the story progresses. I found it interesting to see the Catholic/Protestant debate from both sides, although actions, rather than doctrines, are the focus of the book. I think the following quote neatly captures the religious changes afoot at the time:
...he feels a force ready to break, as spring breaks from the dead tree. As the word of God spreads, the people's eyes are opened to new truths. Until now, ... they knew Noah and the Flood, but not St Paul. They could count over the sorrows of our Blessed Mother, and say how the damned are carried down to Hell. But they did not know the manifold miracles and sayings of Christ, nor the words and deeds of the apostles, simple men who, like the poor of London, pursued simple wordless trades. The story is much bigger than they ever thought it was. ... They have seen their religion painted on the walls of churches, or carved in stone, but now God's pen is poised, and he is ready to write his words in the books of their hearts.  (pp 515-516)
There's a sequel on the way, apparently. I doubt I'll go out of my way to get it, but if I see it on the shelf in the library, I'll probably pick it up.

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