Synopsis according to Goodreads:
“Tudor England. Henry VIII is on the throne, but has no heir. Cardinal Wolsey is charged with securing his divorce. Into this atmosphere of distrust comes Thomas Cromwell – a man as ruthlessly ambitious in his wider politics as he is for himself. His reforming agenda is carried out in the grip of a self-interested parliament and a king who fluctuates between romantic passions and murderous rages.“
Wolf Hall is a sweeping historical fiction epic based on the real people and real accounts of the reign of Henry VIII in England. It centers around Thomas Cromwell, a self-made man who is shrewd and sarcastic among a passel of inheriting idiots, religious zealots, and rocks adjacent to hard places. The title is intriguing, but it turns out the reference has no bearing on the plot, so in my head I renamed it “Thomas Cromwell, by Hilary Mantel.”
It was easy to like Thomas Cromwell (and Cardinal Wolsey, whose sense of humor cracked me up)- he’s shrewd, compassionate, and forward-thinking. It was difficult to like pretty much anyone else in this book- not because they are bad characters, but because there’s a larger parade of people as opposed to a deeper development of them. I kept losing the thread of who Cromwell was interacting with, and why they were at all important.
If you’re interested in this novel, do yourself a favor and do NOT listen to the audiobook. The narrator has difficult maintaining accents, and because of that I was lost at least 50% of the time as to which character the pronoun ‘he’ was currently referring to. Also as to whether I was inside Cromwell’s head as he was making an observation, or hearing him speak to someone else, or hearing a third-person scene description: all three were scattered throughout the novel. Plus the occasional first-person narrative moments, which also confused me.
That being said, if you like history that brings personality to long-dead movers and shakers of a well-known age of the British Empire, this one is pretty good. The pace can be awkward (sometimes compelling, sometimes plodding) but the Thomas Cromwell as a character is consistently engaging. By the end, knowing what happens with Henry VIII from history classes, I was curious how Cromwell would manage an increasingly petulant king….so I’ll likely be picking up the second book to find out.