Genre: Historical fiction, Thomas Cromwell, Henry VIII, Anne Boleyn, British History.
Rating: 4 stars for very good.
Wolf Hall is a historical fiction story of the period in time when Henry VIII wanted to be rid of his first wife, Katherine of Aragon, and marry Anne Boleyn, his concubine. Henry wants a male heir. Katherine has not provided him with a male heir. His legitimate heir is a daughter Mary by Katherine.
Thomas Cromwell is the chief minister to Henry VIII. Henry expects Cromwell to advise and bring about a conclusion to Henry's marriage to Katherine. An ending of the marriage is not accepted by the Pope, nor by Europe's royal houses. Henry is a lone renegade is his hapless state of not having a male heir.
What I love about Wolf Hall is Hilary Mantel's uniquely written view of the characters. For example, Thomas Cromwell's opinions of the old king, Henry VIII, Katherine of Aragon, Arthur, Mary Tudor, and Anne Boleyn. I love it that she neither flatters the characters, nor is she indignant, but shows their human qualities, both positive and negative (and with dry humor.)
I love Mantel's descriptions of characters. The use of heavy descriptive words that oozes their demeanor, or state in life, or dismal future.
"Mary Tudor is a pale, clever doll with fox-colored hair, who speaks with more gravity than the average bishop." Page 76.
"Once Winchester has gone, Anne hangs over the king again; her eyes flick sideways, as if she were drawing him into conspiracy...Her face seems sculpted in the purity of its lines, her skull small like a cats; her throat has a mineral glitter, as if it were powdered with fool's gold." Page 503.
A second aspect I love is I felt as if I were sitting on a perfectly placed perch, able to see and hear the characters without them knowing I was there. For example, there is a fascinating dialogue between the cardinal and Thomas Cromwell. They discuss people, their own personal lives, projects, God, the king, and fears. Their conversation is one of two men who are knowledgeable about each other's lives, mannerisms, speech, and history. They are observant and can read each other's faces. The cardinal tells Thomas two jokes. I felt this scene was phenomenal.
There are places in the story where I am "told" the story in swift third person sentences, then things shift and I'm given a panoramic view by zeroing in on one characters particular observations. This too is a wonderful switcheroo in the change of writing style in telling the story.