Sometimes I move quickly through a book; at other times, I take my time. I might argue that I've taken longer with this last book because I'm adjusting to a new semester with less time to read for pleasure. I know, though, from the first few pages that I was going to love Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall. Some of my favorite books have been historical fiction--that blend that lets me learn a little history while indulging in memorable characters and, in the best of cases, artful language.
Wolf Hall follows Thomas Cromwell during the reign of Henry VIII, particularly during his courtship of Anne Boleyn and his unsuccessful suit to Rome for annulment from Catherine. My only complaint as I read, though, is occasional pronoun reference ambiguity. With so many male characters, the author's shift to he in reference to Thomas, instead of whomever was last mentioned, caught me off guard.
The novel reminds me, in a way, of Pillars of the Earth, but without the viewpoint of the working classes, at least once Thomas escapes his childhood home. Toward the end, though, as Thomas refects over his life, I was reminded of King Arthur at the end of White's Once and Future King. His recollections of his life were just as bittersweet. The trial and execution of Thomas More had such a complicated impact on Cromwell, a reminder that in life even more than in literature, few characters are completely good or completely bad.
The title of the novel is a teaser, since Wolf Hall is the home of young Jane Seymour, who makes occasional appearances in the narrative, but catches Cromwell's attention more than Henry's. I'm hoping that's an indication that another book is in the works. In fact, only two wives into Henry's dynasty, there's plenty of story potential to follow.
One bit of advice: If you read the eBook version, rather than the print text, you might want to bookmark the family trees at the beginning of the book--or print them off. When I read the book again--and I feel certain I will--I want to keep all the character straight--because in a work of historical fiction, there can be lots of Thomases, lots of Marys, lots of Janes.