Saturday, November 10, 2012

Wolf Hall

Yesterday evening, after working for a few hours at a coffee shop, I decided to swing by the bookstore before I headed home. I had a gift certificate burning a whole in my purse, and I wanted to look around. Specifically, I was thinking that maybe the time had come for me to pick up a copy of Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel.

I know everyone else has already read it and that I'm late to the party. But I hadn't picked it up yet since it's so long, I have a dissertation to write, and my dissertation is about the c18, not the c16. But, for some reason, I started to feel as if it might be time. I think part of the impulse might have come from my recent reading of Heresy by S. J. Parris (it is billed as an "Elizabethan Thriller," but I thought of it more as a historical mystery). And I guess it got me in the c16 frame of mind. It might also be that the evenings are getting colder and darker, and such a context seems fitting for a such a book.

But I had read mixed reviews of Wolf Hall, so I was hesitant to take the plunge. Most readers seem to love it, but quite a few deemed it "unreadable" because of a taxing writing style. So, when I arrived at the bookstore, I immediately texted Amstr to ask her if I'd like it. Amstr knows me very well, and she has an amazing way of remembering a lot of details about my interests and tendencies (a great quality in a friend, no?). She texted me back right away, which was fantastic because I only had about 15 minutes to spare. Here is what she said:

"Yes! I really liked it! It took a while to get into the groove of the narrative style (a weird kind of limited omniscient present tense, if I remember right). It took about 50 pages to get into it, but I'm glad I did."

I have just started the novel. I'm only about 15 pages in, but I really like it. And do you know why? Well, yes, because it's good, but I think I like it mostly because of the completely apt heads up that I got from Amstr. Since I knew what to look for in the style, and since I was assured (by someone who knows my interests well) that there would be a pay off, I wasn't thrown or confused by the POV. In fact, I was able to focus more on its benefits--the ways in which the characters and the relationships between them feel so real and alive.

So here's to good books and, even more, to good friends.


Contingent Cassandra said...

I'm grateful for the warning/review, too, since a relative gave me a copy, and I've been meaning to read it. This will move it up on my "maybe over Christmas" list.

Amstr said...

Hear, hear!

Now you've got me thinking I should pick up "Bringing Up Bodies" for my holiday reading this year. It would be perfect--just enough before my research period to give me some imaginative context but not override the historical facts. (Though I understand Mantel is quite painstaking in how she handles history.)

If you haven't seen it yet, you might also enjoy the New Yorker profile of Mantel ( It's an interesting read.

Amstr said...

Oops--that should be "Bringing Up THE Bodies"

Bavardess said...

I think Hilary Mantel was definitely one of the UK's most under-rated writers (until the Booker Prize, of course). She has an incredible sense of place - I've just read her 'Vacant Possession', which captures the bleakness of 1990s northern England with biting black humour and a sort of spooky melancholy. I took to the odd POV in Wolf Hall right away. Amstr - I loved Wolf Hall but I think Bringing up the Bodies' was even better.