Wolf Hall is a fictional look at Thomas Cromwell using historical facts. I found the book difficult to read. There are many characters who share similar names (1) and functions. The book has a light conversational tone and features a lot of dialog. This adds a difficulty as the speakers are not always clearly identified, so the reader (me) loses track of who is speaking and about what. This must be a personal failing my part as the book won the 2009 Man Booker Prize.
I also had trouble defining the book’s theme until near the end. It answers the question how did a poor boy who barely escaped his father’s blows end up being the 2nd most powerful man in England. The answer didn’t require 532 pages. The answer was hard work, detailed notes, timing and a lot patience. (3) The same set of attributes I required to finish reading this book.
The book ends with the death Thomas More- rather predictable. If I were writing “Wolf Hall” I would start here and follow Cromwell to his own death on similar charges: Heresy and Treason. Both Thomases had the lion by the tail. More died by denying Henry VIII his desire, and Cromwell by giving Henry what he wanted. It is an interesting three-way power struggle between Parliament, the Church, and the Crown. By the time of the Reformation, The Church has fallen into disrepute (2). The Crown and Parliament conspire to take control of their lands, wealth, and power. Something only a strong island nation could attempt.
- He hears Alice running upstairs. He hears her calling, Thomas, Thomas… It is a name that will bring half the house out, tumbling from their beside prayers, from their very beds: yes, are you looking for me? (page 407)
- In the street he sees a priest carrying the host, no doubt to a dying Londoner; the passers-by uncover their heads and kneel, but a boy leans out of an upper window and jeers, “Show us your Christ-is-Risen. Show us your Jack-in-the-Box.” He glances up; the boy’s face, before it vanishes, is vivid with rage. (page 422)
- And at the same time, the word is out: help Cromwell and he will help you. Be loyal, be diligent, be intelligent on his behalf; you will come into a reward. Those who commit their service to him will be promoted and protected. He is a good friend and master; this is said of him everywhere. (page 479)