Wolf Hall, By Hilary Mantel

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The Independent Culture

Any reader who has so far resisted last year's Man Booker laureate should sucumb to its appealstraight away. Hilary Mantel's scintillating tragi-comic novel of the career (up to 1535) of Henry's VIII's enforcer Thomas Cromwell has virtues to trump every sceptical objection.

The brisk and witty present-tense narration stands light years away from fusty Tudor folderol. Her Cromwell, in his progress from beaten Putney blacksmith's kid to chief minister and all-purpose fixer, leaps off the page.

His deadly rival Thomas More, loses much of his saintly Man for All Seasons shine. As for the snake-pit of Henry's court, it feels a more exciting place by far than behind the scenes in Downing Street.