Sunday, July 25, 2010

Civil Servant Extraordinaire

Warning: This post may state the obvious. So many have waxed euphoric (or something) about this book that I really have nothing new to contribute. However, this state of reviews won't stop me from a couple of thoughts:

Two Thomases of Tudor England are set in opposition in the wondrously absorbing award winning novel Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel - Thomas Cromwell and Thomas More. More has gotten much better press over the centuries, and it is gratifying to see a less favorable view that is very well presented. More's Chelsea comes off effete and barren compared to the Cromwell lair, Austin Friars. Though a ruthless servant of the King, Cromwell's home life is nurturing to the ones under his roof.

Getting home to that roof every day is a challenge for Cromwell, who, after the death of Cardinal Wolsey, his totally larger than life mentor, rises to become Henry VIII's top adviser, administrator, and general ear. Wolsey's fate stands in the background, however. These are the Anne Boleyn years, and Mantel's characterization of Anne is also original and different from the standard treatment of her in historical novels (at least the few I have read). Jane Seymour pokes her head in at times and is also portrayed in an interesting light.

The prose is also a bit unconventional, and though initially I thought the third person about one person clumsy, once I oriented myself to it the technique worked well. This is a work of original depth-charging insight, and well worth completing though it may seem a bit daunting at times.

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