Wolf Hall – Hilary Mantel

The BookDepository


I have seen several people tip this book for the Booker prize this year, and so decided to give it a try. Unfortunately this book was even more disappointing than The Children’s Book, which I think will win this year’s prize despite the fact it wasn’t for me.

Wolf Hall is set in Tudor England and tells the story of Thomas Cromwell, one of the lesser known people from this period in history, but a man with huge influence over Henry VIII. The book concentrates on the time around Henry’s divorce to Catherine of Arragon and his marriage to Anne Boleyn, a period in history which has been covered many times before, most successfully in The Other Boleyn Girl.

A book has to be outstanding to grab my attention when I know the story already and I’m afraid this book wasn’t. The writing was very clunky and didn’t flow smoothly. I found that I had to keep re-reading sections in order to work out the intended meaning.

One day my brother Tom goes out fighting. As punishment, his father creeps up behind 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 recognise 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. 

I also found repetition, which I found irritating:

He hopes you are well. Hopes I am well. Hopes his lovely sisters Anne and little Grace are well. He himself is well. 

and descriptions which didn’t make any sense to me:

A wash of sunlight lies over the river, pale as the flesh of a lemon.

I never think of lemons as being pale. Is it just me?

The more I read, the more I disliked this book. It was getting to the stage where I wanted to throw it across the room, and as this book is 650 pages long that would be a dangerous thing to do. For the safety of my household I decided to stop reading the book after about 120 pages – I just couldn’t face 500+ more pages of it.

I skim read the rest and had a quick look at the ending, but nothing I saw made me regret putting it down.

Recommended to anyone with a Tudor obsession, but I think the writing style and the length of this book will be off-putting to some people.



Hilary Mantel has written several other books, including Beyond Black, which was short listed for the Orange prize in 2006.

Have you read any of her books? What did you think of them?

Send to Kindle


  1. Beth F says:

    Thanks for extracts . . . this editor would have put the book in the DNF pile. Ugh.

    1. Jackie says:

      I saw a few people on Amazon mention the quality of the writing, but the vast majority of people love this book. If I don’t like something I do like to be able to give examples. I’m pleased that as an editor you agree with me.

  2. Simon S says:

    I haven’t properly read your blog today! Not in a rude wat but have this on my TBR so once read will be back! Think this will be longlisted just from reviews have seen so far alone! Hope you got your copy of Bell Jar!

    1. Jackie says:

      I do that too! I’m going to go back and read your Other Hand review later, as I avoided it a few days ago.

      I got my copy of The Bell Jar about an hour ago. I should start reading it next week.

  3. Violet says:

    What was the first passage you quoted all about? It was as you said very clunky. I don’t know much about this period of time but thanks for the review, I won’t be reading this book, as if 650 pages wasn’t already a put off.

    1. Jackie says:

      Have you read The Other Boleyn Girl? I think you’d love that! I know how you feel about chunksters, so I can see that this wouldn’t be for you at all!

  4. Claire says:

    I really hope that this isn’t on the Booker longlist as I don’t want to read it at all! The Children’s Book I am undecided about… I was looking forward to it being published, the synopsis appealed to me, and then I read reviews that had descriptions of pottery in them and I was bored.

    *goes off to see whether her copy of The Bell Jar has arrived*

    1. Jackie says:

      It isn’t looking good if you are bored by the descriptions….I look forward to hearing what you think of The Children’s Book and I’m afraid I think this one will be on the list too. I’m not going to finish it even if it wins!

  5. Sandy says:

    Jeez. Everyone is well, we get the point, right? It has been a long time since I’ve seen you rank something a one star. Wow. Well, I will be honest, I am not a huge fan of this time period. I know many are obsessed with it, and perhaps I’ve never given it its chance, but I would not have picked it up in the first place!

    1. Jackie says:

      I try not to read books which I think will only be one or two stars, so yes they aren’t very common.

      I do enjoy reading about this time period, but I have to have a different slant on things – I don’t like to hear the same story over and over again.

  6. Lu says:

    Booker Prize is continuously a fail, for me at least. I can’t think of ONE I’ve liked. I guess I can’t complain until I’ve read them all… and I haven’t yet. So, I’ll keep reading, maybe I’ll find one I like.

    1. Jackie says:

      I haven’t loved any of the winners either, but I have liked quite a few. Have you read The Bone People or Oscar and Lucinda – they are both pretty good stories.

  7. Misfit says:

    I’ve heard varying opinions on this one, thanks for posting yours, I appreciate the critical reviews as much as the glowing ones. It will definitely be coming from the library if I give it a whirl.

    1. Jackie says:

      I have seen some glowing reviews for this book. You just have to decide if you have a similar taste in books to me. I hope that by showing the quotes I had problems with you can make up your own mind.

  8. Nicole says:

    Save your family Jackie! Writing like this is why I wish books would err on the side of being too short rather than 600 pages long. If I did happen to run across pale lemons I usually avoid them thinking that they won’t be that favorable.

    1. Jackie says:

      I think even bad lemons are more likely to be brown than pale! Glad it isn’t just me that thinks pale lemons should be avoided!

  9. Steph says:

    Yikes! This definitely doesn’t sound like a book for me. I’m generally not drawn to historical fiction, but the snippets you posted definitely didn’t make me reappraise my thoughts on the matter! The writing seemed particularly abstruse. Just goes to show that just because something is nominated for an award (possibly even winning it!) that doesn’t mean it’s going to be something you need to read! ;)

    1. Jackie says:

      It hasn’t been nominated for any awards yet – although I think it probably will be on Tuesday. It just goes to show that some people have very different ideas about what makes a good book.

  10. Swati says:

    Hello, I’m new to the world of book-blogging so you won’t know me (though I’ve lurked on your site for ages)

    I have just finished reading this book and I have to agree with your review. I have a keen interest in the Tudor period and have read a lot of fiction and non-fiction set in this era. So I was very excited to get my hands on this book. It was a huge disappointment. Cromwell deserves a better treatment from a more capable writer.

    1. Jackie says:

      Welcome Swati! Thank you for commenting for the first time. I am interested to read that even a big fan of the Tudor period didn’t like this book. I’ll go and have a look at your new blog now….

  11. Jenny says:

    I had these exact same issues with Beyond Black! I expected great things because it was all about a psychic, and I just found it totally disappointing. (Alas.)

    1. Jackie says:

      I haven’t attempted Beyond Black yet, but will do at some point as it is on the Orange list. I’ll be prepared for a disappointment and hopefully be surpirsed.

  12. Matthew Clayton says:

    I think it’s disgraceful to pass judgment on a book like this without even reading all of it. Of course, there is nothing wrong with giving up on a book you find unpleasant, but to go and write a review about a work after getting only a fifth of the way through is not only ridiculous, but degrading to the responsibility of the critic. It is clear from this review that you have failed to come to terms with the book’s central ideas, but this is hardly surprising given that the book is about Thomas Cromwell’s rise to power, and you didn’t even get as far as the death of Wolsey before starting to skim read.
    That’s not to say I found this book completely flawless, but the examples you quote of supposed bad style are, in my opinion, very poorly-chosen, and expose your superficiality more than say anything about Mantel’s prose. I am naturally willing to address them in detail, but I suppose you will have lost concentration by now, so perhaps I shouldn’t bother.

    1. Matthew, to be frank, I lost concentration reading her excerpts. I think that Jackie gave it a fair shake (120 pages is not 1 page) and didn’t like it. She has every right to express that feeling since she invested some of her own time in trying to read the book. It’s the author’s job to engage the reader and readers have different preferences. But that doesn’t make one better than another.

      Why not spend your energy celebrating the book with others who loved it?

    2. Jackie says:

      Matthew – Thank you for taking the time to comment on my blog.

      We all have different taste in books and people follow my blog because they like similar things to me. I feel it is important to give people honest opinions of all the books I read and not give glowing/ambiguous reviews for everything. Everyone is entitled to their own opinions, and by giving people examples of the things that I found annoying I am giving them the opportunity to reach their own conclusions.

      I agree that I have failed to come to terms with the central ideas of this book. This may be an amazing book, but if I have to read more than 300 pages before it gets to the core issues, then it just isn’t my sort of thing.

  13. Matthew Clayton says:

    I’m glad for the prompt response. Now how about some debate? (Sorry for my rather ranting style).

    Amy, I agree with you that it’s the author’s job to engage her readers, but I disagree with your comment about 120 pages being better than 1. If you look at the review above, it is fair to say that the judgments made (which are purely stylistic), could easily have been made by someone who read one page of the book. It might look something like this: ‘the writing style in this book is so incredibly bad that I gave up and started skim-reading after just one page…here are some excerpts to back this up…in conclusion this book is awful’.
    It is neither a productive or meaningful exercise to simply say ‘I wasn’t engaged by the first 1/5th of the book – this is why’ and then pass it off as a review. In fact, looking at the bulk of replies to the post, this is actually quite damaging: the majority of responders have said ‘right then, I won’t read this book’, having made judgments on quotations from the book that are unrepresentative of the writing as a whole (more on those later) and the assertion that the style should be ‘off-putting for most people’.
    You might say that people are entitled to be swayed by critics whose taste and judgment they trust, but how can you trust a critic who hasn’t even read the work being reviewed?
    In other words, surely this is not a question of taste at all, but purely of attention span? Let’s say someone doesn’t have a problem with reading a 650 page book (reasonable, no?) and wants to know whether reading this WHOLE book would be time well spent. Surely that person, even if their tastes aligned almost exactly with Jackie’s (but not their attention span) would be better off reading an Amazon review of the WHOLE book by someone they have never heard of? Of course this is all assuming that there is value in this book beyond the niceness or nastiness of one or two paragraphs.

    I guess whether you agree or disagree with my argument rests entirely on whether the quotations made by Jackie are fair representations of content and point to genuine weaknesses. I will return some time after eating something to complete my response. I hope you can be bothered to read it, since I think this a matter of genuine importance and needs to be discussed. (It may save a soul or two).

    1. Jackie says:

      I can assure you that I did read 120 pages and not just one, but found myself irritated by the style from very early on and so started to make notes of the things that wound me up. I could come up with many more quotes, but decided to pick the worst in order to illustrate my point.

      I am able to read 650 pages – I read a lot of books and the length of a book does not put me off reading it or reflect how much I am likely to enjoy it.

      The majority of people who comment on my blog are regular readers – they know my book taste and know when to listen to me. There are numerous examples of times when I have disliked a book, but they have gone on to read it anyway, as they know I don’t like gentle, quiet books for example.

      I don’t think this is an attention span issue – it relates to the style of writing. Would you like to give some examples of quotes from this book you enjoy? Perhaps this would help balance things out?

      1. judi says:

        I have just finished reading Wolf Hall and would agree with almost all that Jackie says. The prose style is clunky and irritating and some passages are almost impossible to understand (although reading aloud helps – not advisable in public places!). I do enjoy the subject matter though but would be very unsure about reading another 500+ page book by this author.

        1. Jackie says:

          judi, It is good to know I’m not alone in my opinion of this book. I have thought about getting hold of the audio book version of Wolf Hall as I have heard that it makes things clearer, but I think I’ll leave that for a year or two.

  14. Dan Holloway says:

    This is a fascinating debate, Matthew, and one I’ve found myself having in an entirely (ish) different context many times recently on a lot of “e-book” and “free book” blogs.

    As culture becomes more and more grass-roots driven, the role of the critic is one of the most crucial of those that will be reinvented. As the number of self-published books, and books in the form of blogs increases, so the role of trusted critic, or gatekeeper, will grow in significance. People will seek out those from amongst their peers whose judgement they trust and whose taste is similar to their own. Of course, this happens now – but as the number fo titles proliferates, and readers look outside “the industry”, they will look beyond reviews in the papers (that cover only a portion of what is written), and they will turn to trusted peers.

    What will matter is not an authority dictating from on high, but a recomemndation from a friend with whom one shares a common language game. This is a relationship that develops, whose characetr takes on different colour as the exchange goes on. Slowly the reader and “critic” (who is actually less of a critic and more a fellow-enthusiast) will fall into the kind of relationship where a single word is enough to make the reader buy or not buy a book. And whetehr that is based on 1 page or 100 pages is irrelevant. Likewise, the explanation is of purely conversational interest. The fact is the reader has built up a trust in the “critic”‘s taste over time to the point where they can be fairly sure if a book has been put down after 120 pages by the critic, it’s not for them.

    We have very little time. We have many books. There are many criteria by which we select, and the recommendation of a friend is very high amongst them. To all intents and purposes, the trusted critic acts as a friend in such circumstances – the reason behind a recommendation is less important than teh common bond of taste – and should be no worry to an author. The people who WILL like Mantel’s work will probably gain their recommendations from a different set of trusted friends.

    1. Jackie says:

      Dan – Thank you for commenting on my blog for the first time!

      You have made the point very well – thank you!

      1. Dan Holloway says:

        I’ve been looking through a few of your reviews, and have enjoyed them very much – and the elements of books they reflect on.

        I would just like to make one more point to clarify:

        “degrading to the responsibility of the critic” – I do have to disagree on this point, Matthew, largely because of the reasons outlined above. A critic’s first responsibility is to their readers. And that means being honest about their response to a book. It’s only on that basis that readers can realy get to know which critics they trust, which they like to debate with, which they like to scoff at, and which they just ignore.

        1. Jackie says:

          I agree – so few people are willing to stick their neck out and say that they didn’t like a book. I wish more people were willing to write reviews for books they didn’t like, as it is a much quicker way of deciding if your book tastes align than wading through loads of good reviews where it is impossible to determine which books were better than the next.

          1. Dan Holloway says:

            And as a writer I would much rather a critic be honest. Not only does a compliment mean more from someone who only gives them if they mean it. More important – I don’t want people to spend money on my book and then not like it. For one, I care about my readers too much; and for two, they will be much less likely to buy my next book even though they might have liked it, because they’ll have struck me off their list for good – and passed that message to their friends.

  15. Matthew Clayton says:

    Dan, that’s fine (up to a point) but I don’t feel that Jackie is being honest (or rather fair) about the book at all. I think the root of this problem is her not reading the book, which puts her at a huge disadvantage, and I hope to shed light on the importance of this when I go through her quoted passages.
    More importantly though, your comment about the explanation being of ‘purely conversational interest’ is shocking. Let me get this straight: ‘Wolf Hall’ is a work of literature, so if it deserves any criticism, it deserves literary criticism. Accordingly I think it is totally wrong that the ‘chummy internet bookworm recommending/not recommending a book’ role and the earnest appraisal of good and bad that is a real reviewer’s job should ever get mixed up. In the end, if critic and consumer must be put on the same level, wouldn’t we be much better off with an Amazon-style recommendation machine that tells you “92% of people who liked ‘The Other Boleyn Girl’ gave up on ‘Wolf Hall’ before page 150”?

    Jackie, I’ll gladly quote some bits that I enjoyed from the book (maybe tomorrow when I get my copy back), but first I want to address what you say are the worst examples of the first 120 pages.

    The first section quoted is from what I, admittedly, felt was one of the weakest parts of the book, where we witness the events leading up to Cromwell’s escape from Putney and journey to Europe, the rest of which is only revealed in flash-backs. (Although I can tell you that the flash-back passages do end up contributing a lot to the depth Mantel’s description of Cromwell’s character, and that the atmosphere introduced in this first section of the book goes on to haunt certain other parts very effectively).
    Anyway, coming to the paragraph itself, it is important to remember that the quotation is from a bit of direct speech (which you fail to mention). The words are put in the mouth of Thomas’s sister, who is recovering from the shock of having received her brother at death’s door after suffering some incredibly harsh physical abuse from their father. These words are thus spoken by an uneducated young woman from Late-Medieval Putney, in a state of shock, trying to make sense of a terrible situation and form her view of it. The way Mantel expresses this is, in my opinion, quite successful: the sense of the paragraph is almost lost beneath a flurry of sub-clauses and extraneous information, before emerging again at the end as a coherent (and sensible) statement.
    This is thought ‘on-the-go’, if you like, and is rather like reading a speech spoken by Hamlet or Leontes, where the character is frantically trying to understand an emotionally charged tragic situation and express this complex development of thought and feeling while they are speaking. In fact, look at some of Shakespeare’s most famous characters, and at very important stages in the plot you will often find sentences which barely make grammatical sense or don’t at all.

    The second quotation is a more straightforward one. Here Cromwell (I think) reports the contents of a letter home from his son. Repetition and short sentences convey the sparsity and dryness of the letter, which is ludicrously brief and uninformative.

    The third quotation stems perhaps from a misunderstanding on your part. The comparison refers to the FLESH of the lemon, not to the outside of one. The image conjured (not one of her best, I’ll begrudge you), is one of wateriness, transparency, freshness.

    Picture something like this:

    Contrast with this:

    Or this:

    Quite a beautiful image when you think about it. (Note. both the rivers pictured are the Thames).

    1. Dan Holloway says:

      Matthew, thank you for taking the time to respond. I think it’s clear that at a fundamental level we will probably end up disagreeing, so to avoid any whatnottery it’s probably best to say that now. On the other hand, this is a really important question, and one on which there’s plenty more to say.

      I am in total agreement about not confusing the role of the reviewer and that of literary critic, but I think we mean different things. I also think my “purely conversational interest” probably sounded more casual than it was intended to. I meant it in rather the same way that one says “I love x (one’s inamorata)” and goes on to list the reasons. The reasons are interesting, subject to endless fascination, but are only ever a quantitative analysis that actually have little bearing on the fact taht one is in love (are merely the best effort lovers can make to explain the unexplainable). So it is with a book review. What I want to know as a reader is whetehr or not the trusted reviewer loved the book. That’s the one and only clincher. The rest is fascinating (perhaps endlessly so) but of no qualitative interest to me as a reader.

      Literary criticism, on the other hand, for me is hugely important and entirely different. I am a theorist by training, and in the past year I’ve given a number of conference papers whose content could only really be described as critical theory. I’m not going to come over all Terry Eagleton (apart from anything I was a student at uni when he was absolutely everywhere and we all got a bit sick of his name – it would benice if more theorists now had an equally high profile as he did then, though wouldn’t it?), but the analysis of a text as a literary object can reveal huge amounts about the implicit prejudices of society, about the inadequacies of language, about its triumphs over the broken human condition. As a human and a student of humanity, we should ALL be followers of literary criticism.

      But as a reader, we want our reviewers to be more widely-read versins of ourselves. We want a response to a text at a different level. Maybe some readers want a response at a critical level in order to know whether to read a book. In whihc case they should seek a reviewer who wants the same.

      I know this is a debate that travels round the conference circuit in literarture, art theory, and musicology with the swiftness of swine flu. And it will go on being endlessly repeated, so we won’t solve it here. I just wanted to note that there is one camp that believes all reading is and must be critical (consciously and deliberately so) and that anything else is an abnegation of the reader’s duty to the text; and another camp that believes reading can be a amtter of an emotional, quasi-intuitive response to a spiritual object, and that critical theory has no place outside the classroom. I completely accept your entitlement to belong to the former; I am sure you will acknowledge the entitlement of others – like me – to belong to the latter.

      To conclude, I in no way wished to demean the conversation about a book – which can in itself be a source of great pleasure and fascination. I merely wanted to put it in what I consider to be its rightful place for a review – qualitatively different from and subsequent to, the reviewer’s emotional response.

      1. Matthew Clayton says:

        Dan, of course I have no objection to those who wish to belong to the second group. My worry is that most people who read this blog are not as aware as you of the distinction between the two roles. I first raised an objection to this review (I’ll call it a blog post from now on) because I felt that Jackie is deceiving people, in a sense, by dressing up her emotional response to the text as a critical stance. As she put it in her response to my earlier comment,

        ‘This may be an amazing book, but ……… it just isn’t my sort of thing’.

        Nowhere in the blog post itself is this distinction made clear. In other words, someone new to the blog might read the post and think Jackie is saying that ‘Wolf Hall’ is a bad book, when in fact she is saying that she doesn’t think it will be to the taste of those who follow her blog. After all, if you type ‘hilary mantel wolf hall review’ into Google, this page is on the first page of results, so you could be forgiven for thinking that this is a real review.

        I think you’re right that we will probably never agree, so let me summarize my position so we can put this behind us. As a recommender of books, Jackie plays a very useful role (though it would perhaps be better served using a table with two columns: one with the name of the book; the other showing Jackie’s emotional response and perhaps a star rating). However, as a critic, (which I still feel Jackie is trying to be, though I would like to hear her view on this) Jackie has done a very bad job of evaluating this book.

        1. Jackie says:

          I’m sure that anyone typing ‘hilary mantel wolf hall review’ has the intelligence to make this distinction. It has been nominated for the Booker prize – are strangers really going to take my word over a panel of judges?

          As to whether I’m a critic – I’m really not sure what that means. I am just a book lover, who likes to share my feelings about the books I’ve read.

          I’m not sure what your definition of a real review is. This is the honest reflection of my thoughts and the fact that I am not paid or influenced in any other way makes this review more real than many you’ll find in the press.

          1. Matthew Clayton says:

            Hi, Thanks for replying. Any thoughts on my ‘refutations’ above? (I should have my copy of the book back this afternoon if you’re still interested in my favorite bits?)

            As for the definition of ‘critic’, try this:

            ‘a person who is professionally engaged in the analysis and interpretation of works of art ‘ (-Princeton). I would add….’with the aim of forming some kind of appraisal’

            This should include, in my opinion, considering the whole of a work and weighing its good and bad aspects. This is roughly what makes a ‘real review’.

            If you chose to do this you would, as you say, have the advantage over of newspaper reviewers (not to mention the bunch of amateurs on the Booker panel) because you work voluntarily. However, as it stands, by not reading the whole of a work, and providing criticisms based on style alone, you provide no information that people could not find elsewhere (eg. by searching for extracts, of which there are some available online, or by leafing through the book in a book shop). All you add is your personal judgment, which can and should only take a sentence.
            Worse still, your extracts are partly misleading (see previous posts), and display a certain superficiality of observation.

          2. Jackie says:

            By your definition I am not a critic, or trying to be one.

            I know that I have taken the quotes out of context and understand that they are probably the sign of a very skilled writer. To be able to convey the feelings of Thomas’s sister so that:

            the sense of the paragraph is almost lost beneath a flurry of sub-clauses and extraneous information

            is an amazing use of the English language, but doesn’t disguise the fact that I struggled to understand what was happening and don’t have the desire to spend ages working it out.

            I think we just need to agree to disagree. We clearly view books very differently and although I think this has a good chance of winning the Booker prize I really hope that Wilderness wins!

  16. Michele says:

    So Matthew, here’s my question for you:

    Had Jackie written a glowing recommendation of this book, would you still have commented telling her how invalid her “review” is because she is not a professional?

    Just wonderin’.

  17. John Self says:

    I’ve read the above post and comments with interest, as I’m an admirer of Mantel but failed to finish Beyond Black and did not initially intend to read Wolf Hall because (a) it’s 600 pages long, and (b) I presumed I would need some background knowledge of the setting to enjoy it. (Others have since assured me that the latter is not necessary.)

    I tend to agree with Matthew’s points about your choice of ‘bad’ writing from the book – the first, far from being ‘clunky’, is clearly (even to me who hasn’t read the book) a sort of stream of language via reported speech, intended to convey urgency and confusion; and the second isn’t something I would have noted as odd since to me the flesh of a lemon is indeed pale.

    I think it’s acceptable to comment on books you haven’t finished – I did it once myself on my blog – but not to seek to convey a whole opinion on the book based on that. I think one problem for me is the fact that you have gone on to give the book a star rating, which does convey to some extent that this is a ‘complete opinion’ on the book.

    I agree too that we tend to gravitate towards those bloggers with tastes similar to our own. I had a look at your post on J.L. Carr’s A Month in the Country, which you gave two stars, and which I consider to be a masterpiece. (And no, I’m not an elderly man looking back on his life!) On that basis I could tell that our tastes probably don’t overlap much and that your views on Wolf Hall needn’t put me off reading it.

    1. Jackie says:

      Thank you for your comments.

      Regular readers of my blog will know that any book I do not finish is automatically given a one star rating. This is no reflection of how well written the book is, but simply down to how much I enjoyed reading it.

      Everyone has different taste in books, so all ratings are going to be subjective. I will add an explanation of my star rating to my sidebar to prevent confusion in the future.

  18. Dan Holloway says:

    I’d like to add that whilst I’m not 100% sure our tastes coincide (I kinda like slow books – hmm, “kinda” being the key word, I think. On the other hand I concur on the Ishiguro) but I very much like the way this blog is done and Jackie’s approach, and will follow it on a regular basis. Like many readers, I don’t think I will ever be put off reading something by a reviewer, but I always live in hope of being put ON to something I would otherwise not have discovered.

  19. I think Wolf Hall requires a certain mind set and infinite patience which for me was rewarded hugely once I gave it that. I actually read 60 pages and set it aside knowing that I didn’t have the time to give it at that moment. It could have been a point at which I declared it ‘bad’ and never returned to it.
    But I have grown to love Hilary Mantel’s writing over the last 15 years or so, and I just knew I was missing something
    Coming back to it I re-read those pages slowly and continued slowly and I ‘got it’ completely and was bereft to turn the final page. I understood what Hilary Mantel was trying to do and for me she succeeded. Having now heard her talk about this book I can’t wait for the next one.
    I used to be the reader who raced headlong into a book and expected it to start delivering the goods immediately. I’ve learnt down the reading years (yes John Self , woman looking back over life!) that this approach doesn’t always pay dividends and as a result have come back to many books discarded by a younger me as ‘bad’ and years later, with all that life-water under the bridge, have found them to be astonishingly good.
    Perhaps this might happen for you with Wolf Hall Jackie, meanwhile it’ll make a great doorstop:-)

    1. Jackie says:

      I am already discovering that books I loved as a teenager are disappointing reads now, so I can see that tastes change with age.

      I know that I lack patience with books, perhaps you’re right – one day I may grow to love this type of book.

  20. Simon T says:

    Coming late to the party, but I just wanted to jump to your defence nonetheless! I think Matthew simply misunderstands what bloggers generally try to do – which, I think, is document our reading lives and tell like-minded people whether or not they’d enjoy the book in question. Bloggers (again, generally) aren’t trying to be the new great essayist of the decade. And that fact that you couldn’t finish the book speaks volumes about whether or not like-minded readers will want to read the book. It’s not as though you pretended to have finished the book, nor did you leave your thoughts unsupported. The idea that picking ‘bad’ parts of the novel makes your review too subjective is a bit silly – if there are bad parts of a novel, they should have been edited or cut. I very rarely stop reading novels once I’ve started them, though I wouldn’t want to preach that compulsion to others. With Lionel Shriver’s Kevin book I couldn’t get beyond page 50 – and felt that that experience, supported by quotation from the book, was worth telling other people so that they could save their money, if they had similar taste to mine. I wouldn’t submit my review for the Pulitzer prize.
    So – keep doing what you’re doing, Jackie! Each blogger can surely blog the way they wish to, as long as they’re honest about the way they do it.

    1. Jackie says:

      Thanks for your support – I think the fact that others can spot greatness in those quotes just proves that we all have different tastes and backing up thoughts with quotes is very important, so others can make their own judgements.

  21. Vivian says:

    I agree with you about the clunky-ness. As far as lemons go, if you cut one in half, you will agree that it is a pale colour as described. Yep, the outside is a pretty bright yellow, but not the FLESH.

    “A wash of sunlight lies over the river, pale as the flesh of a lemon.”

    1. Jackie says:

      Vivian, OK – I take back the bit about lemons!

  22. Stavros Hawtin says:

    Best book I’ve read in 5 years. And with respect, one of the primary reasons you bagged this book (whatsisname, the blogger, whoever you are – I didn’t bother looking it up because your reveiwing style is a touch shallow and naive) is because you “knew the story already” (this point is missed by most of your apologists and critics alike above).

    I knew the story, too, but the level of research and utter knowledge and insights into human behaviour that are present in Wolf Hall made it unforgettably brilliant for me.

    Fact is I agree, style is important, and some people will not tolerate a style which is unfamilar or difficult to follow. Fair enough. Try getting through any of James Ellroy’s 50s-70s trilogy (starting with American Tabloid, then The Cold Six Thousand, then Blood’s a Rover). I can guarantee you in advance that you (whatsisname, the blogger) will hate it, despite the riveting content.

    It is ultra-repetitive, but once you persist and focus on the plot and the brilliant insights as the story comes together, it falls to the background. An acquired taste for the person still eager as buggery to learn.

    Mantel writes Wolf Hall in a pretty unique voice and once you have the context of that particular voice nailed down (about 100 pages or so?) it is a joyful read, mainly because she is totally consistent with this voice throughout.

    And the occasional times where a longer passage became confusing to me was also when I just wasn’t concentrating. Authors do not necessarily write to intellectually spoon feed their every reader with synaptic bite-size pieces. I didn’t mind working a little harder for Wolf Hall at all!

    A deserved Man Booker winner, and good on you for the blog, whatsisname – at least you are having a go, mate.

    1. Jackie says:

      Stavros, I’m really pleased that you enjoyed this book. We all have different reading tastes and I’m pleased that you were able to see exactly why I didn’t like Wolf Hall and why my naive, shallow problems did not affect your enjoyment of it.

      It is clear we like different books and I hope that you find many more wonderful things to read in the future.


  1. Farm Lane Books Blog – Farm Lane Books Blog
  2. Farm Lane Books Blog – Farm Lane Books Blog
  3. #230 ~ Wolf Hall : literatehousewife.com
  4. The Orange Prize Long List 2010 – Farm Lane Books Blog
  5. Wolf Hall – Book Review – caribousmom
  6. Who is going to win the 2010 Orange Prize? – Farm Lane Books Blog

Leave a Reply