Fourth Estate £8.99
Wolf Hall, By Hilary Mantel
Sunday 19 December 2010
Hilary Mantel's portrait of the blacksmith's son who rose to become Henry VIII's right-hand man, and for a time, the most powerful individual in the country, is a tour de force. It seems unfair to cite this book in a "best of" list once again, after it dominated so many of last year's selections, but it still outclasses almost anything else (and costs less than half as much in paperback, out this year).
Much has been made of Mantel's "innovative" use of the present tense in a historical novel, as though this is unique (it's not); not so much, though, has been said about her refusal to name Thomas Cromwell. As if to mirror his ability to slip into powerful networks and work invisibly, she refers to him only as "he" (other characters may name him): this is a man whose identity is legendary throughout the land, whose reputation is feared, yet who also manages to efface himself.
Cromwell's youth, spent abroad in various underhand activities, is referenced through the food he eats, the clothes he wears, the way he orders his servants. Mantel's task was to make human a power-hungry tyrant, which she does never better than in his scenes with his employer and king. While we might glimpse an occasionally sentimental Cromwell, mourning the early death of his wife, or even a playful Cromwell, gently flirting with a young Jane Seymour, it is the courtly Cromwell, negotiating with Henry, who really intrigues and reveals. Sympathy, fear, resentment, watchfulness, generosity and protectiveness are all part of these encounters, and Cromwell's ambition seeps quietly through them all.
Mantel's sequel will presumably take us to Cromwell's grisly fate, condemned as a traitor, just as his nemeses Anne Boleyn and Thomas More were before him. We must be patient, though, and not rush her thoughtful, psychologically truthful prose, eager as we are to absorb it once again.
Is the comedy album making a comeback?comedy
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Secret Cinema interview: Why were Back to the Future screenings cancelled?
- 2 Christians: The world's most persecuted people
- 3 Israel-Gaza conflict: The secret report that helps Israelis to hide facts
- 4 Students offered grants if they tweet pro-Israeli propaganda
- 5 Iraq crisis: End 'very near' for Christianity after Isis takeover, says Bishop
Secret Cinema interview: Why were Back to the Future screenings cancelled?
Game of Thrones: season 4 bloopers unveiled at Comic-Con 2014
Best movies on Netflix UK and US: 32 films that will end your endless scrolling
50 best running songs: From Avicii and Pharrell Williams to the classic 'Eye of the Tiger'
Doctor Who series 8: Watch Peter Capaldi in new ‘Listen!’ teaser trailer
Israel-Gaza conflict: The secret report that helps Israelis to hide facts
A day in the life of Vladimir Putin: The dictator in his labyrinth
Opponents of Israel's military operation in Gaza are the real enemies of Middle Eastern peace
Were 'Poor Doors' added to mixed developments so wealthy residents don't have to go in alongside social housing tenants?
Arizona execution lasts two hours as killer Joseph Wood left 'snorting and gasping' for air
Malaysia Airlines MH17 crash: Massive rise in sale of British arms to Russia