04 December 2011

Wolf Hall Readalong, Parts 1 and 2

Note: This is the first of three posts for the Wolf Hall Readalong co-hosted by Nicole at Linus's Blanket and me, so be prepared for spoilers. Readalong participants should add their post's link into the Linky below. Also, remember to use the hashtag on Twitter #WolfHallReadalong so we can stay in the loop with everyone if there are questions (or grumbles).

Here is a quick evolution of my reading of Parts 1 and 2 of Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel:
  1. What. The. Heck. Is going on? Who. The. Heck. Is talking?
  2. And then, OH! There is a way to read this book. Thomas Cromwell is always "he."
  3. Ohhh, ok. Now that I get that, now I really like it.
Once I understood that the dialogue never identifies Thomas Cromwell by name (thanks also to the Twitter conversation with @bookmagicdeb), and that he is always referred to as "he," things began to progress more smoothly. I actually started to really enjoy the beautiful writing and the story itself.

The Two Primary Characters

Thomas Cromwell
 Cardinal Wolsey
Recap of Parts 1 & 2
I know virtually nothing about the Tudors, and any education I do have is from the movie, The Other Boleyn Girl with Scarlett Johannson and Natalie Portman. In this story, it's Thomas Cromwell's perspective, and it opens in the year 1500 with an extremely bloody scene of Thomas being beaten to a pulp by his father Walter. Thomas is fifteen-years-old and decides that this is the last beating he will endure from his father, so he runs away and spends his years overseas in various locations, but spends most of his time it seems, in Italy. The law becomes his passion and he ends up becoming the legal right-hand-man of Cardinal Wolsey who is in service to King Henry VIII. Henry is currently married to Katherine (known as Catherine of Aragon), and is pursuing a divorce from her in order to marry Anne Boleyn. It's Cardinal Wolsey's responsibility to make this happen, and if he is unsuccessful, things could go very badly for the Cardinal and anyone in his service, including Thomas.

This is not the happiest of stories. I just felt bad for everybody as I read.

Major Events
  • Cardinal Wolsey is evicted from his home (I felt SO BAD when he was kneeling in the mud).
  • Henry VIII is trying to get approval to divorce Katherine so he can marry Anne Boleyn. (Henry is just a jerk. Big ego).
  • Thomas Cromwell's wife dies one summer to the "sweating sickness," or the plague.
  • The next summer, Thomas Cromwell loses both of his two young daughters to the plague, the feisty Anne and the young Grace. (I couldn't believe it! First his wife, and then his two young daughters. Horrible, horrible).
  • The cardinal is unsuccessful in getting the courts to approve the divorce for Henry, and allegations begin to crop up against the cardinal and accuse him of trying to be more important than the King.
No question about it, even with all of these dramatic events happening, you have to pay close attention as you read Wolf Hall so that nothing passes you by. But, so far it is worth it, and I'm eager to get going with Parts 3 and 4.

Favorite Passages
He understands his need to sleep; he never got much sleep himself, with Walter stamping around, and after he ran away he was always on the ship or on the road, and then he found himself in an army. The thing people don't understand about an army is its great, unpunctuated wastes of inaction: you have to scavenge for food, you are camped out somewhere with a rising water level because your mad capitaine says so, you are shifted abruptly in the middle of the night into some indefensible position, so you never really sleep, your equipment is defective, the gunners keep causing small unwanted explosions, the crossbowmen are either drunk or praying, the arrows are ordered up but not here yet, and your whole mind is occupied by a seething anxiety that things are going to go badly because il principe, or whatever little worshipfulness is in charge today, is not very good at the basic business of thinking. It didn't take him many winters to get out of fighting and into supply. In Italy, you could always fight in the summer, if you felt like it. If you wanted to go out. (p. 34)

He would have explained, if he'd known what sort of explanation Wykys would understand. I gave up fighting because when I lived in Florence, I looked at frescoes every day? He said, "I found an easier way to be." (p.37)

What did you think of the first two parts? Post your thoughts on your blog and add the link to the Linky below. If you are participating and don't have a blog, go ahead and leave your thoughts in a comment below. If you have already read it, feel free to add your thoughts as well!


  1. I LOVE THE WAY YOU SUMMED THIS UP! Seriously, you read my thoughts completely. And I just about cried my eyes out when his daughters died, and when he was saying his wife should be buried with her first husband. I'm excited to see where this takes us! But... wish they would use his first name.

  2. Oh, my goodness, it was the oddest evolution, and then all of a sudden I realized that I was really getting into the story. And that I was loving it! I also couldn't believe that his wife should be buried with her first husband, which was just so incredibly sad. I can't imagine it. Mantel's writing is just compelling and so beautiful. Love it so far!

  3. Like you, I was confused at first. And it doesn't help that just about everyone in this novel has the first name of Thomas! I guess I got hooked when Liz got the plague, then the girls, Ann and Grace. I don't much like the cardinal, but I am really warming up to Thomas Cromwell.

  4. I read Wolf Hall last spring and had to chuckle at your reading evolution... that's exactly how it went for me, too! Now that you've got it all figured out, sit back and enjoy the rest of the book.

  5. I'm looking forward to continuing the story. My comments about Wolf Hall are at the end of my regular Saturday post.

  6. Even with somewhat of a background of knowledge on the Tudor dynasty, I still had a little trouble at first figuring out who was who and especially when the heck Cromwell was speaking...A lot of the families have similar names as well and it's hard to keep up sometimes for sure. I'm loving this...but I sorta knew I would :)

  7. I skimmed this post because I am hoping to catch up this week and participate next week, as this is a book that I have really been wanting to read for the longest time! I will be coming back to this post though, and reading your thoughts once I have formulated some of my own!

  8. With my work travel last week, I'm sorry to say I'm behind - but I will catch up! Thank goodness for audio :)

    I will be back to share my thoughts.

  9. Interesting post, even though I'm not reading along. Not my cup of tea, although I do feel for poor Cromwell.

  10. Lisa@Bibliophiliac - You're right, everyone does have the name Thomas, and that doesn't help with the clarity either! :) I couldn't believe what happened to Cromwell and his daughters. So sad, and I just felt horrible for him.

    JoAnn - I'm glad to hear that it just continues to get better (now that I've got the whole "he" thing figured out!) It is a fabulously written story thus far, and it's hard for me to put it down.

    What Remains Now - I also am looking forward to continuing the story. We have around 250 pages to read this week!

    Peppermint Ph.D. - You do have the knowledge of the Tudors, and it's motivating me to learn more about this dynasty. I'm also loving this story so far, too!

    Zibilee - Oh, I'm so happy that you'll be participating! Plenty of time to catch up, join when you can :)

    Mari - No worries, join when you can! So glad you are participating and I can't wait to hear from you how the story is on audio. Make sure you enter your link into the Linky above for this week's post or on Sunday, can't wait to read your thoughts!

  11. Jenny Girl - This subject definitely can be daunting (or uninteresting). In the first forty pages, I fear that's what it initially became for me, but when the writing style became clearer, it simultaneously became much more enjoyable. I love the story thus far, and yes, Cromwell's story is painful to read. So heart-breaking what he's gone through as a child and then what he went through as an adult.

  12. Thank you for your posting, this is my second time reading this book, but is a book that I have to read very slowly because, some time you don't know who is talking....:)

  13. I was so touched by just how much he loved his wife. Of course it makes sens that he was married, but I just don't ever remember knowing that about him. So far reading this had been enlightening and I have really enjoyed the writing. I hope it stays that way, but now that we have a few tips and tricks, we should be okay, right?