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Wednesday, July 21, 2010

"Ruff" Going

Wolf Hall
Hilary Mantel

Henry Holt, 2009

From the book jacket:
England in the 1520s is a heartbeat from disaster. If the king dies without a male heir, the country could be destroyed by civil war. Henry VIII wants to annul his marriage of twenty years, and marry Anne Boleyn. The pope and most of Europe opposes him. The quest for the king’s freedom destroys his adviser, the brilliant Cardinal Wolsey, and leaves a power vacuum. Into this impasse steps Thomas Cromwell. Cromwell is a wholly original man, a charmer and a bully, both idealist and opportunist, astute in reading people and a demon of energy: he is also a consummate politician, hardened by his personal losses, implacable in his ambition. But Henry is volatile: one day tender, one day murderous. Cromwell helps him break the opposition, but what will be the price of his triumph?

In inimitable style, Hilary Mantel presents a picture of a half-made society on the cusp of change, where individuals fight or embrace their fate with passion and courage. With a vast array of characters, overflowing with incident, the novel re-creates an era when the personal and political are separated by a hairbreadth, where success brings unlimited power but a single failure means death.

Reasons to read this novel:
1. It won lots of awards: Amazon Book of the Month, Man Booker Prize, National Book Critics Circle Award, AND the Walter Scott Historical Fiction Prize.
2. It was meticulously researched. Or so I assume.
3. It won lots of awards.
4. It has 560 pages, complete with FIVE pages detailing the cast of characters. So it’s very well organized.
5. It won lots of awards.

True Confessions:
1. I could not read this “wonderful” book.
2. I am ashamed of myself.
3. I kept asking myself why I couldn’t finish it. Literally. Here is my self-interview that attempts to explain this unusual phenomenon.

Kellie interviews Kellie

Kellie, the Blog Writer: “So, Kellie, what happened?”

Kellie, the Compulsive Reader: “I really wanted this to work, but fate was against me.”

Writer: “Really? Fate?”

Reader: “Okay, I know it’s hard to believe. I can usually read almost anything. In fact, that’s why I majored in English – because it was just a lot of reading. I’ve struggled through all the classics: War and Peace, Les Miserables, The Fountainhead, just to name a few. So I figured this one would be a piece of cake.”

Writer: “Was it the number of pages that did you in?”

Reader: “No, not really. But I have to say the size of the book was rather daunting. I actually put in on reserve three times before I could devote enough time to read it. I kept returning it and putting it back on hold. Then it would sit on my nightstand until it was due and I would start the process again. But I’m not afraid of big books.”

Writer: “So, was it the five pages of characters that proved your downfall?”

Reader: “No, W. Not entirely. But it was the first clue that this book was going to be a challenge.”

Writer: “Okay. You were faced with a big book. Lots of pages. Lots of characters. Historic British stuff. Any of these would be a challenge even for the most compulsive reader. Yet you gave it your best shot. I know this is a personal question, R, but how far did you get?”

Reader (sheepishly) “Page 82.”

Writer: “That’s it? Frankly, I’m shocked. You are usually so dependable, so faithful, so dedicated to your craft. Have you ever not finished a book?”

Reader (defensively): “I’m not perfect, you know. I’ve not finished books before. I can’t remember a time in the last couple years when I didn’t, but sure, it’s happened. More than once, I might add.”

Writer: “So you got to page 82. Something must have happened to make you give up. Too much sex?”

Reader: “What?! There’s no such thing as too much sex. As my friend Pam says, sex ALWAYS makes a book better. I’m pretty sure that I would have stayed glued to those pages if I had sensed even a promise of sex in it somewhere down the line.

Writer: “Too much violence, then?”

Reader: “Uh, no. There may have been some violence, but that didn’t bother me.”

Writer: “Well?”

Reader: “I’m ashamed to say what it was.”

Writer: “Why? Aren’t we all friends here in the blogosphere? If you can’t trust us, who can you trust?”

Reader: “This is embarrassing. This book has won about a million awards, and it received starred reviews from professional librarians, and it is supposed to be a wonderful book.

Writer: “Well? (sound of foot tapping) I’m not going to go away. Just spill it already.”

Reader: “It was the pronouns.”

Writer: “It was the what?”

Reader: “Pronouns. There were too many “hes.”

Writer: “Too many whats?”

Reader: “’He.’ You know, the pronoun “he.” Also, “his” and “he’s.” Remember the five pages of characters that are in the front of the book? Well, imagine trying to keep all those characters straight when the author uses a lot of pronouns instead of names. It was “he this” and “his that” and I couldn’t figure out which he it was. And I tried. Lord knows I tried.”

Writer: “So you just gave up?”

Reader: “So I just gave up.”

Writer: “Huh. Defeated by a pronoun. It’s gotta be a first.”

Reader: “Yeah.”

There you have it: a wonderful unreadable (by me) historical fiction. I hope you have better luck than I did.

Rating (yes, it’s harsh, but I have to go by the rating guide below):

Other books by this author:
Lots and lots.
All with awards and starred reviews.
I’m too tired to list them all right now.
Go to the Mesa Public Library catalog ( and you’ll find them.

1 comment:

  1. I am months behind in reading your reviews, and this is the FUNNIEST review I have ever read! You gave a solid point for not reading this book! I am laughing and relieved to know this book isn't going to be carried around in MY bag.