Author: Hilary Mantel, 2009
Genre: Historical Fiction. England 16th century. Post-modern.
Other Details: Hardback. 672 pages.
Wolf Hall was a reading group selection for March and I very much looked forward to having this opportunity to re-read it. I looked back at my earlier review (2011 Book 45) and found that this re-read confirmed my initial assessment that this was a magnificent novel, well deserving of its critical acclaim.
Mantel's technique is bold as she sets aside the conventions of historical fiction and instead plunges the reader into a stream of consciousness narrative that is sited mainly with Cromwell. So there is little exposition or scene setting. Having read Marcel Proust since my first reading of Wolf Hall, I can see the precedent for this approach. The effect is to make these events seem as though they are unfolding under the reader's gaze. It makes everything seem immediate and exciting despite the fact that the outcome is known.
I also appreciated the sense of how important religion is to everyone involved. I've complained in the past about writers of historical fiction who have their characters as doubters or even atheists even during historical periods when religious consciousness was all-pervading. With Mantel this doesn't happen and the novel is stronger for that.
I would never say that this is an easy novel to read. It is challenging but to my feeling deeply rewarding for its insights into this turbulent, exciting period in English history. The response from the reading group was mixed though this is the kind of novel that does polarise readers. I was glad that I took my time with re-reading it.
Wolf Hall and its follow up Bring Up the Bodies have been adapted as a play by the Royal Shakespeare Company. It is also being adapted as a TV series for the BBC due for broadcast in 2015.