Wow, “Wolf Hall” was a fabulous read. I flipped the final page last night, after three weeks of trying to find time to do the book justice, and felt myself fighting back tears. Not quite sure why — the ending wasn’t overly emotional or dramatic — but I was sorry to see the story end. Written by Hilary Martel, and winner of the 2009 Booker Prize, “Wolf Hall” describes the life of Thomas Cromwell, son of an abusive blacksmith, who climbed his way up the social ladder to become eventually chief adviser to England’s notorious King Henry VIII. Cromwell is a fascinating character, a clearly brilliant man, who knew how to turn every situation to his advantage and attract people to himself like magnets. I would have thought such a person to be grasping, conniving, unappealing, yet there is something so likeable and admirable about Cromwell that I wish I could have known him. He’s the sort of guy who would be a fabulous mentor for professional success in life.
Parallel to Cromwell’s story is that of Henry VIII, right at the time of his divorce from Katherine of Aragon, his rejection of the Catholic church, the creation of the Anglican Church of England, and marriage to Anne Boleyn. The mid-to-late 1500s were a tempestuous time in England, full of much superstition and persecution and fear of any sort of alternative ways of thinking. It’s fascinating to see how Henry convinces himself of the invalidity of his first marriage in order to justify such a huge religious split that enables him to marry Anne, a woman whose ambition really does make her an unappealing character. His failure to produce a male heir becomes all-consuming, rendering him unable to enjoy his life or to relax. What becomes really clear is how falling in love with Anne triggered a whole number of events that changed the course of England’s history dramatically. If Henry had stayed contently married to Katherine, I wonder, would the Anglican church have never existed?
Martel’s prose isn’t easy reading. I found it confusing at first to grasp her style, but once I got caught up in the story, it was convincing and engaging. I think there’s a sequel… that will have to wait till we get back from our trip, but I’m definitely eager to find out what happens to Anne Boleyn, and how Henry manages to have another four wives in his eternal quest for a male heir.
Read my review on Wolf Hall’s sequel, “Bring Up The Bodies” right here.