Does Amazon send you countless emails with offers on books? Do you look, just in case there’s something you actually want to read? Do you end up buying virtual stacks of them at £0.99 and £1.49 just because you can’t not own this text if that’s the price? I’m sure this is why half the books on my Kindle are there, and Wolf Hall is one of the books for which this happened.
I never really planned to read Wolf Hall. Back when I read How Late It Was, How Late and I criticised the Booker Prize judges for usually being more interested in things like Thomas Cromwell fanfiction, it was Mantel’s work I was talking about. I’m right, by the way, because not only did Wolf Hall win the prize, but so did Bring Up The Bodies.
And Wolf Hall really is Thomas Cromwell fanfiction. It just also happens to be very good. That surprised me. Perhaps I’m just generally biased against this kind of historical fiction – especially when it’s of this length. The idea of opening a book set in the court of King Henry VIII that runs to over 600 pages sends me to sleep before I’ve even begun. Even worse when you discover that it only covers the period between the end of his first marriage and the start of his second. Why couldn’t that fit into a neat 300 pages? Why not 250?
Well, I don’t have the answer to that. Certainly, Wolf Hall could be heftily abridged. That said, when I finally got around to reading it (out of desperation; there was nothing else already downloaded to my Kindle and I couldn’t connect to WiFi) I found that it felt much shorter. Many of my expectations of the novel with regards to it probably being dusty and overly self-indulgent were wrong. I read it much faster than I expected to and found myself actually becoming quite engrossed in it.
The characters are what makes it, really. And I don’t really care whether they’re based on real people or not – they’re well written, compelling and believable. If Mantel had created them all from scratch I think they would have been just as convincing but I don’t know that the book would have collected the Booker.
So on the whole, a much better read than I was expecting. I found the ending fell a little flat, perhaps because there’s Bring Up The Bodies to follow and, while I enjoyed it, I’m not about to rush out to get my hands on that particular sequel. Maybe if I did then ending would have worked better for me. Still, if I do suddenly find myself with a copy, I won’t put off reading it for quite as long as I did Wolf Hall.