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Bookmarks Issue: 
44-Jan-Feb-2010
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A-Wolf HallAcclaimed British novelist Hilary Mantel is the author of nine previous titles, including A Change of Climate, A Place of Greater Safety, Fludd, and Beyond Black ( 3.5 of 5 Stars Sept/Oct 2005). Wolf Hall recently won the 2009 Man Booker Prize for Fiction.

The Story: For centuries, historians have painted Henry VIII's chief minister, Thomas Cromwell, in an unflattering light, casting him as a ruthless villain and a jealous rival to venerable statesman Thomas More. Mantel, however, portrays him as a man both sophisticated and shrewd, intelligent and fiercely loyal. Born into poverty in the late 15th century, Cromwell rises to become the most influential advisor behind England's monarch. When Henry VIII seeks to annul his marriage to Katherine of Aragon in order to marry upstart Anne Boleyn, Cromwell steps in to help him sever his relationship with the Catholic Church. But in a world where royal favor is fleeting, Cromwell learns that power is a tenuous commodity.
Henry Holt. 532 pages. $27. ISBN: 9780805080681

Los Angeles Times 4.5 of 5 Stars
"Mantel's abilities to channel the life and lexicon of the past are nothing short of astonishing. ... The dialogue is so convincing that she seems to have been, in another life, a stenographer taking notes in the taverns and palaces of Tudor England." Ross King

St. Louis Post-Dispatch 4 of 5 Stars
"The result is a literary thriller centered around the Court's intrigue and duplicity. ... With its excellent plotting and riveting dialogue, Wolf Hall is a gem of a novel that is both accurate and gripping." Cody Corliss

Wall Street Journal 4 of 5 Stars
"Ms. Mantel has a knack for getting under the skin of her characters and capturing them (one feels) as they must have been. ... So convincing is she with Wolf Hall that it is easy to feel that we are seeing the real Cromwell before us, transforming himself from the battered child of an abusive London blacksmith ... into a cosmopolitan, accomplished Renaissance man." Martin Rubin

Washington Post 4 of 5 Stars
"Mantel's choice of protagonist signals her intelligence and artistic ambition. ... Historians have long acknowledged Cromwell as the administrative genius who transformed a medieval fiefdom into a modern nation-state, but only an exceedingly bold novelist could envision this odyssey as the stuff of gripping fiction." Wendy Smith

New York Times 3.5 of 5 Stars
"This witty, densely populated book may experience a rough passage when it crosses the Atlantic. For readers not fully versed in the nuances of England's tangled royal bloodlines, not amused by Ms. Mantel's deliberate obliqueness ... or not even familiar with the effect of the law of praemunire on the papacy, Wolf Hall has its share of stumbling blocks." Janet Maslin

Times (UK) 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Indeed, the way the scenes seem to crowd in on each other, the way the throng of often confusing characters passes before our eyes (the cast list runs to five pages), and the sheer volume of detail, have a deleterious effect on the whole project, slowing its pace, chipping away at its contours, softening its definition. ... The effect, sadly, is to turn a potentially outstanding novel into merely a commendable one." Andrew Holgate

Critical Summary

Critics were not surprised at Mantel's Booker Prize win, despite stiff competition that included A. S. Byatt's The Children's Book and J. M. Coetzee's Summertime. Wolf Hall offers a fascinating and expertly researched look at a man famously villainized in the play and film A Man for All Seasons and Showtimes's more recent bodice-ripping series The Tudors. Despite the effusive praise, critics thought that the vast array of characters (many named Thomas) and titles of nobility may leave some readers scratching their heads despite the guide Mantel provides in the book. Nevertheless, this intriguing human portrait should leave most readers anticipating the promised sequel.