Thursday, April 29, 2010

Wolf Hall - Hilary Mantell

I'm not a huge fan of the Tudor time period and all things involving Henry VIII. This is why I was initally reluctant to read any of Philippa Gregory's books. But, I admit she sucked me in with all the court intrigue, and general soap opera nature of the characters. So, when Wolf Hall won the Booker Prize and I started seeing people reading it on public transit and at the airport, I figured I might as well check this one out too. Turns out, I'm not really a huge fan of the Tudor time period and all things involving Henry VIII. Wolf Hall starts out with Henry's wish to annul his marriage to Katherine, and wed Anne Boleyn in the hopes of producing a male heir. The book focuses primarily on Thomas Cromwell, one of Henry's ambitious men, who tries his hand at the political manuevering necessary to accomplish his master's commands without losing the love and trust of his people. Mantel has been praised from all angles in presenting an old tale in a lyrical fashion, historically accurate, and nothing short of a masterpiece. I have to humbly disagree. I found this book incredibly boring - not just because I'm tired of this story. I didn't come to care about any of the characters - whether it was to feel sorry for them for being ill-favored by the king for no particular reason, or to even detest them and wonder whether they would find themselves on the king's bad side at the next tide shift. I did experience the anxiety I normally do when I read books about horrible dictatorships - that queasy feeling that one's choice is either to become a blithering sycophant, or get beheaded. It doesn't seem like much of a way to live one's life. But, despite this horror, I could not find myself much interested in how this story ended up (well, we all know how it ends up - but I didn't care much for the journey either). Once again, the literary critics have spoken, and I have to conclude that I need a little bit more (or less as the case may be) than the intellectuals do to stay interested.

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