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Wolf Hall: A Novel
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Wolf Hall: A Novel

3.6 502
by Hilary Mantel

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In the ruthless arena of King Henry VIII's court, only one man dares to gamble his life to win the king's favor and ascend to the heights of political power

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


In the ruthless arena of King Henry VIII's court, only one man dares to gamble his life to win the king's favor and ascend to the heights of political power

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.

Editorial Reviews

In Putney, England, in the year 1500, a young man is beaten, almost to death, by his drunken father. "Felled, dazed, silent, he has fallen" in a yard that "smells of beer and blood." It is not the first beating, but it will be the last -- of this kind at least. The youth is Thomas Cromwell (1485?-1540), the central character in Hilary Mantel's astonishing Wolf Hall. He will become Cromwell, Earl of Essex, Master Secretary and "Viceregent of Spirituals" to King Henry VIII, and the chief architect of the Protestant Reformation. Soldier, politician, and power broker, he will be a gentle father himself. And a killer.

In historical fiction, Cromwell typically emerges as a stately edifice around which clouds of legend and history swirl -- a monument to be admired or demolished, depending on the author's prejudice. Hilary Mantel, however, has little interest in edifices. It is the mind of Cromwell, and the mind of Tudor England, that she attempts to penetrate. We might expect nothing less from a versatile author who has, among many other accomplishments, powerfully dramatized the French Revolution in one novel (A Place of Greater Safety) and the consciousness of a modern psychic in another (Beyond Black). Nevertheless, in Wolf Hall, Mantel's ability to insinuate herself into a distant era and consciousness is almost uncanny. From that first brutal scene, the novel holds us fast and close.

Cromwell, the "felled" son, survives those early beatings, we realize, not only because he is tough and cunning but also because he understands his enemy, absorbs the attack, and bides his time. These qualities assist Cromwell's rise to power -- a story that, in Mantel's hands, is as thrilling as any espionage drama -- but they do not explain him. Mantel, to her credit, does not intend to explain him. Instead she creates this complex, elusive character before our eyes even as she compels us to see the world through his. It is a world of shadows and secrets, ideal terrain for a gifted fixer. "A man's power is in the half-light, in the half-seen movements of his hand and the unguessed-at expression of his face," Cromwell explains. "It is the absence of facts that frightens people: the gap you open, into which they pour their fears, fantasies, desires." He is about to be appointed Keeper of the Jewel House, a powerful position in 1532. Later, as the saintly and insufferable Thomas More faces execution, Cromwell similarly muses "my workings are hidden from myself."

The historical events in Wolf Hall are less opaque, and broadly familiar from numerous costume dramas and (generally) bad historical novels. King Henry VIII, besotted with Anne Boleyn and lacking a male heir after twenty years of marriage to Katherine of Aragon, demands an annulment of that marriage. The Pope, most of Europe's monarchy, and many scheming courtiers oppose him. Even Cardinal Wolsey, the King's deviously brilliant adviser, fails and eventually perishes in his attempt to sway Rome and its allies. England itself, ruled by a willful monarch, lorded over by ruthless aristocrats and terrorized by plague, is divided and fearful.

We know what will follow historically: Henry's six wives, the beheadings, the religious persecutions. But Mantel leaves that to the future. Instead of treading well-worn ground, she sets Wolf Hall in the tense years (1500-1535) leading up to the Protestant Reformation, a critical period in Cromwell's personal ascent and in England's political transformation. "What was England before Wolsey?" Cromwell reflects when his mentor dies in 1530, "A little offshore island, poor and cold." Ever Wolsey's protégé, Cromwell envisages an England of secular laws, with a healthy treasury and a literate populace unfettered from the Roman faith and from its own superstitions.

Indeed, in Wolf Hall Cromwell embodies that new England: he is the blacksmith's son who becomes the King's man. "His guess is, the clergy own a third of England," Mantel has Cromwell musing as he nudges the monarch towards dispossession of the church. "One day soon, Henry will ask him how the Crown can own it instead. It's like dealing with a child; one day you bring in a box, and the child asks, what is in there? Then it goes to sleep and forgets, but next day, it asks again. It doesn't rest until the box is open and the treats given out." An earlier sketch gives us this Henry: "How brightly coloured the king is, like the king in a new pack of cards: how small his flat blue eye." Then this one: "The king comes in. It is a warm day and he wears pale silks. Rubies cluster on his knuckles like bubbles of blood."

In descriptions such as these -- tactile and immediate -- each character in Wolf Hall arrives before us with an ease that is both startling and seductive. We come to know intimately the mannerisms of Cardinal Wolsey ("He makes a great, deep, smiling sigh, like a leopard settling in a warm spot"); of Sir Thomas More ("More rises smoothly, as if the thought of custody has put a spring in his step; the effect is spoiled only by his usual grab at his garments, the scuffle as he shrugs himself together..."); of the Duke of Norfolk ("Flint-faced and keen-eyed, he is as lean as a gnawed bone and as cold as an ax-head"); of Anne Boleyn ("...her body taut like a bowstring, her skin dusted with gold, with tints of apricot and honey; when she smiles, which she does often, she shows small teeth, white and sharp"). Even the infant Elizabeth becomes a person: "Ginger bristles poke from beneath her cap, and her eyes are vigilant; he has never seen an infant in the crib look so ready to take offence." And several times we glimpse Henry's daughter Mary (later Bloody Mary) as a girl who, like Cromwell, cultivates the art of patience and of revenge.

This is a crowded stage, yet each player, however minor, is permanently fixed in our memory, thanks to Mantel's psychological acuity and her compressed, often startling language. Great events, such as the coronation of Anne Boleyn, are similarly arresting. "Sixteen knights carry Anne in a white litter hung with silver bells which ring at each step, at each breath: the queen is in white, her body shimmering in its strange skin, her face held in a conscious solemn smile, her hair loose beneath a circle of gems."

Horrors are also depicted with unflinching clarity. Cromwell is just a child when he sees his first religious martyr burned at the stake, an old woman, a Protestant "Loller," who is herded to her death by "two monks, parading like fat gray rats, crosses in their pink paws." As Henry's enforcer, Cromwell will see other monks publicly disemboweled and will fail to prevent Thomas More's beheading. Mantel also shows Cromwell's private torments as plague kills those he loves and almost takes him. To this extent, the man is humanized but never pitiable -- and never innocent. "The fate of peoples is made like this," he observes in 1535, as he negotiates with a French envoy, "two men in small rooms...This is how the world changes: a counter pushed across a table, a pen stroke that alters the force of a phrase, a woman's sigh as she passes and leaves on the air a trail of orange flower or rose water; her hand pulling close the bed curtain, the discreet sigh of flesh against flesh."

The novel ends on a similarly tantalizing note, with Cromwell about to visit Wolf Hall, seat of the Seymours. Little Jane Seymour has caught his eye -- and Henry's too. The exquisite tension with which Mantel leaves us is that of the tightened bow, of the arrow before it flies. --Anna Mundow

Anna Mundow writes "The Interview" and the "Historical Novels" columns for The Boston Globe and is a contributor to The Irish Times.

Wendy Smith
Henry VIII's quest to make Anne Boleyn his queen has inspired reams of historical fiction, much of it trashy and most of it trite. Yet from this seemingly shopworn material, Hilary Mantel has created a novel both fresh and finely wrought: a brilliant portrait of a society in the throes of disorienting change, anchored by a penetrating character study of Henry's formidable adviser, Thomas Cromwell. It's no wonder that her masterful book won the Man Booker Prize…Wolf Hall is uncompromising and unsentimenta…Mantel's prose is as plain as her protagonist…but also…extraordinarily flexible, subtle and shrewd. Enfolding cogent insights into the human soul within a lucid analysis of the social, economic and personal interactions that drive political developments, Mantel has built on her previous impressive achievements to write her best novel yet.
—The Washington Post
Christopher Benfey
…dazzling…Thomas Cromwell remains a controversial and mysterious figure. Mantel has filled in the blanks plausibly, brilliantly. Wolf Hall has epic scale but lyric texture. Its 500-plus pages turn quickly, winged and falconlike. Trained in the law, Mantel can see the understated heroism in the skilled administrator's day-to-day decisions in service of a well-ordered civil society—not of a medieval fief based on war and not, heaven help us, a utopia. "When you are writing laws you are testing words to find their utmost power," Cromwell reflects. "Like spells, they have to make things happen in the real world, and like spells, they only work if people believe in them." Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall is both spellbinding and believable.
—The New York Times Book Review
Janet Maslin
In Wolf Hall, Hilary Mantel's arch, elegant, richly detailed biographical novel centered on Cromwell…characters are scorchingly well rendered. And their sharp-clawed machinations are presented with nonstop verve in a book that can compress a wealth of incisiveness into a very few well-chosen words.
—The New York Times
Christopher Hitchens
The means by which Mantel grounds and anchors her action so convincingly in the time she describes, while drawing so easily upon the past and hinting so indirectly at the future, put her in the very first rank of historical novelists.
The Atlantic
Publishers Weekly
Set aside a full day to savor Simon Slater’s delightful reading of the Booker Prize–winning tale of Henry VIII’s court, seen through the eyes of his adviser Thomas Cromwell. Mantel’s revisionist take turns Cromwell—so frequently vilified as in A Man for All Seasons—into a modern sort of hero, shrewd and adaptable. Slater’s narration is nuanced and precise; he breathes feeling and subtle shades of emotion into every exchange of dialogue. His is a heroic undertaking, and he does admirable justice to Mantel’s lucid prose and juicy plot. A Holt hardcover (Reviews, Aug. 17). (Dec.)
Library Journal
As Henry VIII's go-to man for his dirty work, Thomas Cromwell (1485–1540) isn't a likely candidate for a sympathetic portrait. He dirtied his hands too often. In the end, Henry dropped him just as he had Cromwell's mentor, Cardinal Wolsey, who counseled the king before him. But as Mantel (Beyond Black) reminds us, Cromwell was a man of many parts, admirable in many respects though disturbing in others. Above all, he got things done and was deeply loyal to his masters, first Wolsey and then the king. Nor was Henry always bloated and egomaniacal: well into his forties, when in good spirits, the king shone brighter than all those around him. VERDICT Longlisted for the Booker Prize, this is in all respects a superior work of fiction, peopled with appealing characters living through a period of tense high drama: Henry's abandonment of wife and church to marry Anne Boleyn. It should appeal to many readers, not just history buffs. And Mantel achieves this feat without violating the historical record! There will be few novels this year as good as this one. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 5/1/09; history buffs may also enjoy reading Robert Hutchinson's biography, Thomas Cromwell: The Rise and Fall of Henry VIII's Most Notorious Minister, reviewed on p. 66.—Ed.]—David Keymer, Modesto, CA
Kirkus Reviews
Exhaustive examination of the circumstances surrounding Henry VIII's schism-inducing marriage to Anne Boleyn. Versatile British novelist Mantel (Giving Up the Ghost, 2006, etc.) forays into the saturated field of Tudor historicals to cover eight years (1527-35) of Henry's long, tumultuous reign. They're chronicled from the point of view of consummate courtier Thomas Cromwell, whose commentary on the doings of his irascible and inwardly tormented king is impressionistic, idiosyncratic and self-interested. The son of a cruel blacksmith, Cromwell fled his father's beatings to become a soldier of fortune in France and Italy, later a cloth trader and banker. He begins his political career as secretary to Cardinal Wolsey, Lord Chancellor of England. Having failed to secure the Pope's permission for Henry to divorce Queen Katherine, Wolsey falls out of favor with the monarch and is supplanted by Sir Thomas More, portrayed here as a domestic tyrant and enthusiastic torturer of Protestants. Unemployed, Cromwell is soon advising Henry himself and acting as confidante to Anne Boleyn and her sister Mary, former mistress of both Henry and King Francis I of France. When plague takes his wife and children, Cromwell creates a new family by taking in his late siblings' children and mentoring impoverished young men who remind him of his low-born, youthful self. The religious issues of the day swirl around the events at court, including the rise of Luther and the burgeoning movement to translate the Bible into vernacular languages. Anne is cast in an unsympathetic light as a petulant, calculating temptress who withholds her favors until Henry is willing to make her queen. Although Mantel's language isoriginal, evocative and at times wittily anachronistic, this minute exegesis of a relatively brief, albeit momentous, period in English history occasionally grows tedious. The characters, including Cromwell, remain unknowable, their emotions closely guarded; this works well for court intrigues, less so for fiction. Masterfully written and researched but likely to appeal mainly to devotees of all things Tudor.

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Wolf Hall

A Novel

By Hilary Mantel

Henry Holt and Company, LLC

Copyright © 2009 Hilary Mantel
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4299-4328-4


Across the Narrow Sea

PUTNEY, 1500

"So now get up."

Felled, dazed, silent, he has fallen; knocked full length on the cobbles of the yard. His head turns sideways; his eyes are turned toward the gate, as if someone might arrive to help him out. One blow, properly placed, could kill him now.

Blood from the gash on his head—which was his father's first effort—is trickling across his face. Add to this, his left eye is blinded; but if he squints sideways, with his right eye he can see that the stitching of his father's boot is unraveling. The twine has sprung clear of the leather, and a hard knot in it has caught his eyebrow and opened another cut.

"So now get up!" Walter is roaring down at him, working out where to kick him next. He lifts his head an inch or two, and moves forward, on his belly, trying to do it without exposing his hands, on which Walter enjoys stamping. "What are you, an eel?" his parent asks. He trots backward, gathers pace, and aims another kick.

It knocks the last breath out of him; he thinks it may be his last. His forehead returns to the ground; he lies waiting, for Walter to jump on him. The dog, Bella, is barking, shut away in an outhouse. I'll miss my dog, he thinks. The yard smells of beer and blood. Someone is shouting, down on the riverbank. Nothing hurts, or perhaps it's that everything hurts, because there is no separate pain that he can pick out. But the cold strikes him, just in one place: just through his cheekbone as it rests on the cobbles.

"Look now, look now," Walter bellows. He hops on one foot, as if he's dancing. "Look what I've done. Burst my boot, kicking your head."

Inch by inch. Inch by inch forward. Never mind if he calls you an eel or a worm or a snake. Head down, don't provoke him. His nose is clotted with blood and he has to open his mouth to breathe. His father's momentary distraction at the loss of his good boot allows him the leisure to vomit. "That's right," Walter yells. "Spew everywhere." Spew everywhere, on my good cobbles. "Come on, boy, get up. Let's see you get up. By the blood of creeping Christ, stand on your feet."

Creeping Christ? he thinks. What does he mean? His head turns sideways, his hair rests in his own vomit, the dog barks, Walter roars, and bells peal out across the water. He feels a sensation of movement, as if the filthy ground has become the Thames. It gives and sways beneath him; he lets out his breath, one great final gasp. You've done it this time, a voice tells Walter. But he closes his ears, or God closes them for him. He is pulled downstream, on a deep black tide.

* * *

The next thing he knows, it is almost noon, and he is propped in the doorway of Pegasus the Flying Horse. His sister Kat is coming from the kitchen with a rack of hot pies in her hands. When she sees him she almost drops them. Her mouth opens in astonishment. "Look at you!"

"Kat, don't shout, it hurts me."

She bawls for her husband: "Morgan Williams!" She rotates on the spot, eyes wild, face flushed from the oven's heat. "Take this tray, body of God, where are you all?"

He is shivering from head to foot, exactly like Bella did when she fell off the boat that time.

A girl runs in. "The master's gone to town."

"I know that, fool." The sight of her brother had panicked the knowledge out of her. She thrusts the tray at the girl. "If you leave them where the cats can get at them, I'll box your ears till you see stars." Her hands empty, she clasps them for a moment in violent prayer. "Fighting again, or was it your father?"

Yes, he says, vigorously nodding, making his nose drop gouts of blood: yes, he indicates himself, as if to say, Walter was here. Kat calls for a basin, for water, for water in a basin, for a cloth, for the devil to rise up, right now, and take away Walter his servant. "Sit down before you fall down." He tries to explain that he has just got up. Out of the yard. It could be an hour ago, it could even be a day, and for all he knows, today might be tomorrow; except that if he had lain there for a day, surely either Walter would have come and killed him, for being in the way, or his wounds would have clotted a bit, and by now he would be hurting all over and almost too stiff to move; from deep experience of Walter's fists and boots, he knows that the second day can be worse than the first. "Sit. Don't talk," Kat says.

When the basin comes, she stands over him and works away, dabbing at his closed eye, working in small circles round and round at his hairline. Her breathing is ragged and her free hand rests on his shoulder. She swears under her breath, and sometimes she cries, and rubs the back of his neck, whispering, "There, hush, there," as if it were he who were crying, though he isn't. He feels as if he is floating, and she is weighting him to earth; he would like to put his arms around her and his face in her apron, and rest there listening to her heartbeat. But he doesn't want to mess her up, get blood all down the front of her.

When Morgan Williams comes in, he is wearing his good town coat. He looks Welsh and pugnacious; it's clear he's heard the news. He stands by Kat, staring down, temporarily out of words; till he says, "See!" He makes a fist, and jerks it three times in the air. "That!" he says. "That's what he'd get. Walter. That's what he'd get. From me."

"Just stand back," Kat advises. "You don't want bits of Thomas on your London jacket."

No more does he. He backs off. "I wouldn't care, but look at you, boy. You could cripple the brute in a fair fight."

"It never is a fair fight," Kat says. "He comes up behind you, right, Thomas? With something in his hand."

"Looks like a glass bottle, in this case," Morgan Williams says. "Was it a bottle?" He shakes his head. His nose bleeds again.

"Don't do that, brother," Kat says. It's all over her hand; she wipes the blood clots down herself. What a mess, on her apron; he might as well have put his head there after all.

"I don't suppose you saw?" Morgan says. "What he was wielding, exactly?"

"That's the value," says Kat, "of an approach from behind—you sorry loss to the magistrates' bench. Listen, Morgan, shall I tell you about my father? He'll pick up whatever's to hand. Which is sometimes a bottle, true. I've seen him do it to my mother. Even our little Bet, I've seen him hit her over the head. Also I've not seen him do it, which was worse, and that was because it was me about to be felled."

"I wonder what I've married into," Morgan Williams says.

But really, this is just something Morgan says; some men have a habitual sniffle, some women have a headache, and Morgan has this wonder. The boy doesn't listen to him; he thinks, if my father did that to my mother, so long dead, then maybe he killed her? No, surely he'd have been taken up for it; Putney's lawless, but you don't get away with murder. Kat's what he's got for a mother: crying for him, rubbing the back of his neck.

He shuts his eyes, to make the left eye equal with the right; he tries to open both. "Kat," he says, "I have got an eye under there, have I? Because it can't see anything." Yes, yes, yes, she says, while Morgan Williams continues his interrogation of the facts; settles on a hard, moderately heavy, sharp object, but possibly not a broken bottle, otherwise Thomas would have seen its jagged edge, prior to Walter splitting his eyebrow open and aiming to blind him. He hears Morgan forming up this theory and would like to speak about the boot, the knot, the knot in the twine, but the effort of moving his mouth seems disproportionate to the reward. By and large he agrees with Morgan's conclusion; he tries to shrug, but it hurts so much, and he feels so crushed and disjointed, that he wonders if his neck is broken.

"Anyway," Kat says, "what were you doing, Tom, to set him off? He usually won't start up till after dark, if it's for no cause at all."

"Yes," Morgan Williams says, "was there a cause?"

"Yesterday. I was fighting."

"You were fighting yesterday? Who in the holy name were you fighting?"

"I don't know." The name, along with the reason, has dropped out of his head; but it feels as if, in exiting, it has removed a jagged splinter of bone from his skull. He touches his scalp, carefully. Bottle? Possible.

"Oh," Kat says, "they're always fighting. Boys. Down by the river."

"So let me be sure I have this right," Morgan says. "He comes home yesterday with his clothes torn and his knuckles skinned, and the old man says, what's this, been fighting? He waits a day, then hits him with a bottle. Then he knocks him down in the yard, kicks him all over, beats up and down his length with a plank of wood that comes to hand ..."

"Did he do that?"

"It's all over the parish! They were lining up on the wharf to tell me, they were shouting at me before the boat tied up. Morgan Williams, listen now, your wife's father has beaten Thomas and he's crawled dying to his sister's house, they've called the priest ... Did you call the priest?"

"Oh, you Williamses!" Kat says. "You think you're such big people around here. People are lining up to tell you things. But why is that? It's because you believe anything."

"But it's right!" Morgan yells. "As good as right! Eh? If you leave out the priest. And that he's not dead yet."

"You'll make that magistrates' bench for sure," Kat says, "with your close study of the difference between a corpse and my brother."

"When I'm a magistrate, I'll have your father in the stocks. Fine him? You can't fine him enough. What's the point of fining a person who will only go and rob or swindle monies to the same value out of some innocent who crosses his path?"

He moans: tries to do it without intruding.

"There, there, there," Kat whispers.

"I'd say the magistrates have had their bellyful," Morgan says. "If he's not watering his ale he's running illegal beasts on the common, if he's not despoiling the common he's assaulting an officer of the peace, if he's not drunk he's dead drunk, and if he's not dead before his time there's no justice in this world."

"Finished?" Kat says. She turns back to him. "Tom, you'd better stay with us now. Morgan Williams, what do you say? He'll be good to do the heavy work, when he's healed up. He can do the figures for you, he can add and ... what's the other thing? All right, don't laugh at me, how much time do you think I had for learning figures, with a father like that? If I can write my name, it's because Tom here taught me."

"He won't," he says, "like it." He can only manage like this: short, simple, declarative sentences.

"Like? He should be ashamed," Morgan says.

Kat says, "Shame was left out when God made my dad."

He says, "Because. Just a mile away. He can easily."

"Come after you? Just let him." Morgan demonstrates his fist again: his little nervy Welsh punch.

* * *

After Kat had finished swabbing him and Morgan Williams had ceased boasting and reconstructing the assault, he lay up for an hour or two, to recover from it. During this time, Walter came to the door, with some of his acquaintance, and there was a certain amount of shouting and kicking of doors, though it came to him in a muffled way and he thought he might have dreamed it. The question in his mind is, what am I going to do, I can't stay in Putney. Partly this is because his memory is coming back, for the day before yesterday and the earlier fight, and he thinks there might have been a knife in it somewhere; and whoever it was stuck in, it wasn't him, so was it by him? All this is unclear in his mind. What is clear is his thought about Walter: I've had enough of this. If he gets after me again I'm going to kill him, and if I kill him they'll hang me, and if they're going to hang me I want a better reason.

Below, the rise and fall of their voices. He can't pick out every word. Morgan says he's burned his boats. Kat is repenting of her first offer, a post as pot-boy, general factotum and chucker-out; because, Morgan's saying, "Walter will always be coming round here, won't he? And 'Where's Tom, send him home, who paid the bloody priest to teach him to read and write, I did, and you're reaping the bloody benefit now, you leek-eating cunt.'"

He comes downstairs. Morgan says cheerily, "You're looking well, considering."

The truth is about Morgan Williams—and he doesn't like him any the less for it—the truth is, this idea he has that one day he'll beat up his father-in-law, it's solely in his mind. In fact, he's frightened of Walter, like a good many people in Putney—and, for that matter, Mortlake and Wimbledon.

He says, "I'm on my way, then."

Kat says, "You have to stay tonight. You know the second day is the worst."

"Who's he going to hit when I'm gone?"

"Not our affair," Kat says. "Bet is married and got out of it, thank God."

Morgan Williams says, "If Walter was my father, I tell you, I'd take to the road." He waits.

"As it happens, we've gathered some ready money."

A pause.

"I'll pay you back."

Morgan says, laughing, relieved, "And how will you do that, Tom?"

He doesn't know. Breathing is difficult, but that doesn't mean anything, it's only because of the clotting inside his nose. It doesn't seem to be broken; he touches it, speculatively, and Kat says, careful, this is a clean apron. She's smiling a pained smile, she doesn't want him to go, and yet she's not going to contradict Morgan Williams, is she? The Williamses are big people, in Putney, in Wimbledon. Morgan dotes on her; he reminds her she's got girls to do the baking and mind the brewing, why doesn't she sit upstairs sewing like a lady, and praying for his success when he goes off to London to do a few deals in his town coat? Twice a day she could sweep through the Pegasus in a good dress and set in order anything that's wrong: that's his idea. And though as far as he can see she works as hard as ever she did when she was a child, he can see how she might like it, that Morgan would exhort her to sit down and be a lady.

"I'll pay you back," he says. "I might go and be a soldier. I could send you a fraction of my pay and I might get loot."

Morgan says, "But there isn't a war."

"There'll be one somewhere," Kat says.

"Or I could be a ship's boy. But, you know, Bella—do you think I should go back for her?

She was screaming. He had her shut up."

"So she wouldn't nip his toes?" Morgan says. He's satirical about Bella.

"I'd like her to come away with me."

"I've heard of a ship's cat. Not of a ship's dog."

"She's very small."

"She'll not pass for a cat." Morgan laughs. "Anyway, you're too big all round for a ship's boy. They have to run up the rigging like little monkeys—have you ever seen a monkey, Tom? Soldier is more like it. Be honest, like father like son—you weren't last in line when God gave out fists."

"Right," Kat said. "Shall we see if we understand this? One day my brother Tom goes out fighting. As punishment, his father creeps up behind and hits him with a whatever, but heavy, and probably sharp, and then, when he falls down, almost takes out his eye, exerts himself to kick in his ribs, beats him with a plank of wood that stands ready to hand, knocks in his face so that if I were not his own sister I'd barely recognize him: and my husband says, the answer to this, Thomas, is go for a soldier, go and find somebody you don't know, take out his eye and kick in his ribs, actually kill him, I suppose, and get paid for it."

"May as well," Morgan says, "as go fighting by the river, without profit to anybody. Look at him—if it were up to me, I'd have a war just to employ him."

Morgan takes out his purse. He puts down coins: chink, chink, chink, with enticing slowness.

He touches his cheekbone. It is bruised, intact: but so cold.

"Listen," Kat says, "we grew up here, there's probably people that would help Tom out—" Morgan gives her a look: which says, eloquently, do you mean there are a lot of people would like to be on the wrong side of Walter Cromwell? Have him breaking their doors down? And she says, as if hearing his thought out loud, "No. Maybe. Maybe, Tom, it would be for the best, do you think?"

He stands up. She says, "Morgan, look at him, he shouldn't go tonight."

"I should. An hour from now he'll have had a skinful and he'll be back. He'd set the place on fire if he thought I were in it."

Morgan says, "Have you got what you need for the road?"

He wants to turn to Kat and say, no.

But she's turned her face away and she's crying. She's not crying for him, because nobody, he thinks, will ever cry for him, God didn't cut him out that way. She's crying for her idea of what life should be like: Sunday after church, all the sisters, sisters-in-law, wives kissing and patting, swatting at each other's children and at the same time loving them and rubbing their little round heads, women comparing and swapping babies, and all the men gathering and talking business, wool, yarn, lengths, shipping, bloody Flemings, fishing rights, brewing, annual turnover, nice timely information, favor-for-favor, little sweeteners, little retainers, my attorney says ... That's what it should be like, married to Morgan Williams, with the Williamses being a big family in Putney ... But somehow it's not been like that. Walter has spoiled it all.


Excerpted from Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel. Copyright © 2009 Hilary Mantel. Excerpted by permission of Henry Holt and Company, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Hilary Mantel is the author of Wolf Hall, winner of the 2009 Man Booker Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award, and shortlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction. She is also the author of A Change of Climate, A Place of Greater Safety, Eight Months on Ghazzah Street, An Experiment in Love, The Giant, O'Brien, Fludd, Every Day Is Mother's Day, Vacant Possession, and Beyond Black, which was shortlisted for the Orange Prize. She has also written a memoir, Giving Up the Ghost. Winner of the Hawthornden Prize, she reviews for The New York Times, The New York Review of Books, and the London Review of Books. She lives in England.

Hilary Mantel is the two-time winner of the Man Booker Prize for her best-selling novels, Wolf Hall, and its sequel, Bring Up the Bodies—an unprecedented achievement. The Royal Shakespeare Company recently adapted Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies for the stage to colossal critical acclaim and a BBC/Masterpiece six-part adaption of the novels will broadcast in 2015.

The author of fourteen books, she is currently at work on the third installment of the Thomas Cromwell Trilogy.

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Wolf Hall 3.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 502 reviews.
Eadie More than 1 year ago
I agree with the reviewers who say the writing style is difficult. I'll go one further and say its just atrocious. I consider myself a serious reader, but I'm on my second time trying to read it and just can't get into the story. Its difficult to figure out who the various 'he's' are. Half the time I can't figure out who is talking during a conversation. If I wasn't aware of the history and plot line, it would just be impossible. I'm sure there are other books that cover this material that are much better written and much more enjoyable to read. If it was a new plot line, it might be worth the effort. I'm glad I checked it out of the library.
BillR More than 1 year ago
I almost put this book aside after the first chapter. It was just too confusing. Then I got my aged mind to accept that "he" always refers to Cromwell and it became a page-turner. It is a fascinating look into the minds of Thomas Cromwell, Henry VIII, and various other players in the life of Henry VIII, the birth of the Anglican Church, the Protestant reformation, and the Renaissance in general. If you read carefully, Wolf Hall also gives a lot of neat little tidbits about life in the sixteenth century; for instance, the convent washed their bed linens once a year. I hope there will be a sequel that takes the life of Cromwell to its inevitable conclusion.
Milhous More than 1 year ago
When I began reading this book I was worried some of the other reviews would be true, having already purchased the book, but fourtunately, they could not have been more wrong. They have issues with the writing style which could not be better, it is what makes the book so great and even thrilling, making of you a witness in every coversation. I do not see how a so-called "serious reader" would find it difficult; as an english-as-a-second-language-guy trust me, it is not. This is a "quid pro quo" kind of book, the more you give of your attention the more you recieve. For those who question the timeline of the story and the ending I would say it is because it is not a history lesson what the autor is trying to give, but a lesson on human nature, portrayed through Cromwell, about how one can rise to any social status by his own merits, but not without tearing down others´ ambition in the process, for as Mantel says "man is wolf to man", thus giving a double meaning to what the title, Wolf Hall, stands for. The content, not just words, words, but words to digest.
2manybooks2littletime More than 1 year ago
From the reviews- especialy those given by B&N- I thought I would give this book a try. I could not finish the book. I could not get past 75 pages. It started out great but in the second chapter the writers style of writing became too disjointed....so much to the point that it was difficult to tell who was dooing the talking, telling and thinking. There are too many good books out there that you don't have to work so hard at to read and enjoy. I would suggest skipping this one.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I'm glad I didn't let the negative customer reviews dissuade me from reading this, it was a treat. The best historical fiction I've read in years, & I'm a fan of the genre. The idiosyncratic, wry, witty ( and sometimes unsentimental) look at the Tudor period through the sharp eyes of Thomas Cromwell might not go over big with the Philippa Gregory or 'historical' romance novel crowd. If you want pure soap opera that plays fast and loose with facts, watch 'The Tudors' (Showtime channel series). I think, in this case, that what was closer to the truth has been rendered infinitely more interesting in this novel. I look forward to reading the new sequel, which deals with Ann Boleyn's downfall.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A fabulous telling of a story we all know but with such depth and nuance! It is not an easy read for those looking for a typical "costume drama" type of historical novel...you do actually have to be alert and willing to follow a number of characters, many with similar names. Oh, but the writing is priceless and beautiful! The in-depth study of the character of Thomas Cromwell is wonderfully rendered; Ms. Mantel paints him with such wit you have to love him! Those who complained that "you can't tell who is talking" just weren't paying attention. The "he says" is always Cromwell. Once you get that, it is perfectly clear. I loved this book, hated for it to end and now can't wait to read others by Hilary Mantel.
KenCady More than 1 year ago
The book is full of historical information, and no doubt the author has done a good job on that. But, at least in my opinion, one of the reasons for writing historical fiction rather than a straight up history, is that the author can liven things up a bit and provide a human interest point of view. This book has none of that. It might as well be the straight up history as the writing is tedious to follow and the storyline quite dull. Readers who have a knowledge of Cromwell and an interest in learning more will be satisfied, but the general reader will be asleep long before the 500+ pages are finished.
MidgeTN More than 1 year ago
The author has a tedious use of the pronoun, "he". Unfortunately, she uses it extensively to the point that it is impossible to know who is talking or what is going on. There are no descriptions of life in the time period. The book is a conglomeration of dialogue after dialogue with no clear understanding of what is happening, who is doing it or saying it or why. The book is very well researched but it is maddening to attempt to keep up with the discourse with no minimal prompts available to know who is talking.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
WordDoc More than 1 year ago
The decision to make it difficult to determine whose thoughts and statements we are reading at any moment was unwise. I assume that Hilary Mantel chose this ill-advised method of writing--not using quotation marks in conventional ways, not clearly attributing statements in situations where more than two people are inter-acting--but her editors should have convinced her that obscurity harmed her effort to make Thomas Cromwell a sympathetic character. Cromwell has suffered from the historians' who have made Ann Boleyn in a romantic figure; Mantel's essentially sympathetic view of him and her characterization of Ann as a coldly calculating power-seeker, is a plausible corrective. Unfortunately, reading this novel is needlessly difficult. The complex tapestry of Tudor England, embroiled in political questions complicated by religious revolution (this is the period of Luther's break with Rome as well as Henry's effort to assure a peaceful succession by securing an annulment from Katherine, the queen he married after her first husband, Henry's older brother died. Katherine was older than Henry, and she bore him a daughter, Mary, but no son; Henry is himself 43 at the time he begins to seek a way to replace Katherine with a fertile younger wife who can bear him a son. The senior archbishop of England, Cardinal Wolsey, is a consummate politician, and he seeks a way to secure support from continental monarchs the Emperor of Spain, and the king of France. For reasons of their own (which Mantel does not go into) it does not suit them to be persuaded to support Henry's petition. Thomas Cromwell is a confidant of Wolsey, a self-made man in an age obsessed with nobility, a man presented as the child of an abusive father who threatens nobles such as Thomas Howard, the Duke of Suffolk, just by being an upstart commoner. This book provides a visceral introduction to a world whose views of society are based on a presumption that all men are NOT created equal. In a sense, Cromwell, the central character of this novel, embodies the view that comes to replace it in the following century and half and is given voice by Jefferson in the American Declaration of Independence. As an imaginative examination of the collision between these two views, one can only praise Mantel's book. I only wish she had been content with that very difficult task, and had not belabored the reader by an unfortunate stylistic choice that made a hard job harder than it had to be for a thoughtful reader.
copysquirl More than 1 year ago
No, the story isn't new. But the characterization of Cromwell is stunning. There's wit, sarcasm,intelligence, tension, romance and a bit of everything plus it's all set during Henry's chaotic Boleyn affair... i was sad to see it end. Frankly, I wanted to spend more time with the character. As a literary escape on it's own and part of the genre. Last year i totally (oh god was it the year before?) chose Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrel and if it's been longer than year it's been that long between favorites - this is on the same level.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
"Wolf Hall" can be a challenge and it's not built to be a fast-paced read--but ultimately, that makes it all the more satisfying. This is simply one of the finest novels I have ever read. it is meant to be savored. What a joy to read sophisticated, emotional, beautiful, intelligent prose--a novel full of complex characters and a fluid blend of the historical and fictional. It is very hard to describe Mantel's style except to say it's like poetry: elegant, lyrical. Does it require some concentration and time? Yes--although once I got used to Mantel's use of dialogue and rhythmns, I found myself moving at a brisk pace. I enjoy "fluff" and "frothy" beach reads as much as the next person; as a college English professor, I rabidly read most anything and take pleasure in all kinds of literature. But whether it's "fluff" or not, I shudder at the mountains of just bad writing: no sense of sentence structure, grammar, or language; no editing; endless repetition of the same cliched plotlines over and over, no originality, and so often coming away from a book wondering how in the world this ever found a publisher. So to find a treasure like "Wolf Hall" making its way into the mainstream is utter bliss for an English-geek like me:)) To be able to step away from a novel and say, "This is brilliant writing" is such a joy, such a treat. No, "Wolf Hall" won't be for everybody's taste and I get that--but if you love a gorgeously written, ultimately satisfying, read that often forces you to stop and linger over a sentence--this is a great choice that also screams for discussion with other readers.
OHARADN More than 1 year ago
At times dense & difficult. I am generally a devourer of books & this one seems to be taking forever to get through. Wanted to love it, don't think I'll tackle the next.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I am delighted to find that there are.many others who also abandoned this book before reaching page 100. It lacks narrative tension, without which fiction is useless. People will no doubt differ over the writing style. I found it ponderois. I have rarely read a book so lacking in humor and irony. The historical research is no doubt first class, but I want a story too. This is about a man who is a brilliant and ruthless political operator in a ruthness millieu. There is no real mystery about Cromwell to be explored.
Soul2Soul More than 1 year ago
I have a passion for the historical novels & this is one of the best I have read. Mantel brings the rich and culture altering events of Henry the VIII's rule well into the 21s century - making the characters that defined that area palpable and real without any mundane melodrama. There are no heroes in this story - but flawed people looking to consolidate power however brutally. This novel echoes long after the last page is turned. A must-read for history buffs and those interested in the civilization of the middle ages. Enjoy!
GreyhoundMom More than 1 year ago
What could have been a fascinating look at Thomas Cromwell, Henry VIII and a critical time in English history became unbearable. There are few books that I give up on but, after reading 2/3 of it, I just couldn't finish. The characters were a jumble that I didn't care about and couldn't keep straight, the plot seemed to wander and weave every which way. On top of that the author's style of dialog with no quotations marks helped to make it a book unnecessarily difficult read. Maybe it is just my lack of knowledge of these historical events that was the problem but usually I can make sense of a historical piece and come away having learned something. That was not the case here. I know it has gotten excellent reviews and won The Mann Booker award but I would recommend this only to someone who is a real history buff and can keep all the myriad characters straight.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
do not waste your time or money. don't even get this at the library. its horrible. i want my money back. i can't tell if there is a plot. so far it seems like just random thoughts that sometimes turn into an actual conversation. its like the writer has a head injury and isn't making a whole lot of sense. is this some sort of new or creative writing style, if so i hate it. i can't tell who is saying what, is it the narrator? is there a narrator? and why so many paragraphs full of info that i have no idea how or why it relates to the rest of the book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I hadyy been put off by other readers who wrote that the writing style and cast of characters was hard to follow, but decided to make an attempt anyway. I could not put this book down. I like her writing, easy to read and beautiful. And I did not have trouble keeping up with all the characters I highly recommend this book.
amydague More than 1 year ago
I consider myself a serious reader.  I devour 2-3 books a week and find that some of them can be a struggle to finish.  This book, however, is a struggle to even begin.  The writing style is terrible and characters have no personality or voice.  I almost made a game out of how many times I read the words "he says" without any following descriptions. Not one to ever toss a book to the side, I valiantly muddled through 55 pages of the rubbish before finally, and for the first time, just quitting.  I have ready college history books with far more flair.  This is one author that will never again grace my library.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I purcased this book because I was interested in a historical fiction on the Tudors. I found the writing to be hard to follow and the story boring. It ws also difficult to connect with characters.
kieffer More than 1 year ago
Was disappointed with this book. Have read other books about the Tudors that kept my interest. But this is also from Thomas Cromwell's side of things. Put it down not even half way through.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
At first I found this book to be a bit difficult to get into. The biggest thing that stood in my way was the abundance of characters...and the amount of characters with the same names. Even with the list of characters at the beginning, it was hard to keep track of who was who. However, once I got into the book a bit, I was hooked. Mantel's interpretation of the events of this time period was quite interesting. I enjoyed the book very much once I got passed the first bit. I definitely recommend this book, and its sequel, but if you don't plan on reading it regularly you may find it difficult to keep up with the story.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The writing style is confusing and the plot hard to follow - even though I have read many books about this time period and know how the "story" is going to end. I would not recommend.
Rosebolo More than 1 year ago
Truly horrible.  Terrible writing style, boring information, difficult to comprehend, weird language...I just can't imagine how this book can be so widely talked about..  It's garbage.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is a great book. Real historical fiction. I couldn't put it down. At first it's a little hard to put in perspective but just remember that "he" is always Thomas Cromwell and that some things referred to are explained later in the book rather than before. Well researched and the characters are humanized, even Henry VIII. Can't wait for the rest of the trilogy.