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Bad Books Bash: Wolf Hall


Last week BBC  premiered their adaption of  Hilary Mantel’s revered Wolf Hall. However, Online Books Editor Sophie Harrison is not quite so enamoured. Here she discusses why… 

I should love it, shouldn’t I? Booker prized, public pedastaled and literary crown jewelled…. it ticks all the boxes. The reviews alone are enough to send you running down to Waterstones, or pressing that download button on your Kindle:

Wolf Hall succeeds on its own terms and then some… Lyrically yet cleanly  written…

Mantel’s achievements is that the reader finishes this 650-page book wanting more” 

(The Guardian)

…Yet I stopped halfway through. For seventeen years, I had never left a book unfinished. No matter how much I wrestled with it, I never left the ring until that last page was turned – until I read Wolf Hall. I will break it down…



Well it certainly made me feel tense upon reading – far from the lyricism The Guardian described, the fact that the book is written in the Present Tense made it really quite clunky. Then there’s the jumping about in time, and the rather laissez faire approach to quotation marks’ consequently, I never felt up-to-date with the plot. I know it is historical fiction, but I was under the (possibly misguided) impression that the characters were the ones living in the past? How silly of me.



[divider]But… it’s the Tudors?![/divider]

Since I was a child, the Tudors have been my favourite time period. The Six Wives, an international fall out, beheadings, affairs… Eastenders would be running scared at an Awards Ceremony. In my early senior school days, I was enthralled by the Phillipa Gregory books, from best known The Other Boleyn Girl to my personal favourite: The Constant Princess. Gregory won no Booker prizes, and to even put her on a footstool next to Mantel would be considered, by many critics, quite laughable.

Yet I feel no shame in admitting that, ten times out of ten, I would enter Gregory’s Tudor world over the latter. Quite simply, the former didn’t bore me half to death. I will give Mantel credit for one thing: she achieved the quite remarkable feat of making the Tudors seem dull to me, the girl who made impassioned cases for “Bloody Mary” when she was 7 years old.

“as soon as I opened the book I was gripped. I read it almost non-stop…

an intelligently imagined retelling of a familiar tale from an unfamiliar angle”

(The Times)

[divider]Emperor’s New Clothes[/divider]

But it was something ‘different’, wasn’t it? Cromwell, an often studied figure, but within this stereotyped as calculating, merciless, ruthless – essentially a Tudor Peter Mandelson. Mantel gave him a human face – a man who came across as quite the liberal, desiring to educate his female children in Greek and Latin, being the compassionate carer to Wolsey, the victim of childhood trauma. How much of this is factually true? Mantel is a liberal herself on this one.

photo credit: The Times
photo credit: The Times

However, I failed to feel moved. I take Gregory as an example once again – by the end of the Novel, I really did not want Anne to die. She was not even the narrator, but seeing her through the eyes  of her sister, I found myself hoping that history could somehow rewrite itself. The simple truth is, I did not find myself emotionally invested in any of Mantel’s characters. Taking the story of Cromwell may be ‘groundbreaking’, but that does not mean I got it, or am apparently going to get it.

But then I am not a Booker prize panelist. Who am I to judge?

Sophie Harrison, Online Books Editor

What are your thoughts on Wolf Hall? Did you love it as much as the critics? Or were you also confused as to the hype? Share your thoughts below or write to us on our Facebook and Twitter pages!

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