18 December 2011

Wolf Hall Readalong, Parts 5 and 6 (finale)

Note: This is the final post for the Wolf Hall Readalong which took place over the past three weeks. Be prepared for spoilers in this post, of course. Readalong participants should add their post's link into the Linky below so we can read your thoughts. Don't forget to visit other readalong participants.

*throws confetti*

I cannot even believe it. I can finally watch the four-part HBO miniseries when it comes out (sometime in 2013?). I finished Wolf Hall late last night and surprisingly, after my first struggles with the book, I ended up thoroughly enjoying it. And while this book was intriguing, intelligent, and fascinating, it also felt like such a journey over the past three weeks that I am now exhausted! But happy. This was a true chunkster of a book and I'm so thankful I had the paperback cover; I think my hands would have given out holding the hardcover book to read each day.

Final Thoughts
I closed the book with sadness. I know Hilary Mantel has partitioned the story into a trilogy and that 2012 brings a new book, but many of you may know that I much prefer stories to be told all at once, versus in this new trend of series/trilogies. I also understand that there is so very much to this story that putting this all into one book would have been nearly impossible; surely there would have been too many edits that would have parsed down both the story and the writing that ultimately it would have been much to difficult to enjoy if it was one book. I get it, I'm just simply stamping my foot on my frustrations with trilogies and the fact that it takes a year or more before the next in the series comes out. I hate waiting.

In this version of the tale of Henry VIII and the dueling battle for who the rightful queen should be, Cromwell comes out on top as a caring, loyal, generous and brilliant man. I have written this (or similar to it) every week and I say it again: Cromwell is THE MAN. He's just not one to be pushed around. Fools are those who feel they can beat him. But one thing that interested me even more so was that Cromwell could never understand how people looked at him. It always surprised him when he hears it said about him; even his own son Gregory knew this and understood the gossip. Later in the book, this passage resonated with me:

I shall not indulge More, he thinks, or his family, in any illusion that they understand me. How could that be, when my workings are hidden from myself? (pg. 536)

Hilary Mantel is successful in beautifully portraying what life might be like in the early 1500s, within the courtly and political world that Cromwell was a part of. While simultaneously weaving in these political tensions, it is the human side that rounds out the character and shows him to be one worth fighting for. Measured in his calculations and countenance, Cromwell is the very man you'd want to have on your side. The tale is haunting, with Mantel relaying ambiguously who is saying what, and while that was initially confusing (and continued to occasionally be) it finally moved past that into a comfortable rhythm that seemed to make sense. While I fought with the story initially in the first thirty or so pages, concerned that I was going to walk away unhappy with the way it was written, I instead realized that there was a method to the unclear madness, which made for a much better and more compelling story of Cromwell's life. What has stuck with me the most these past three weeks is that Cromwell's love for family was so grounded and strong. He may have grown up with a horrible and abusive father, but Cromwell looks at all in his household as part of his life and people that he needs to watch over and protect. He regularly thinks of his wife and children who died years before, and he mourns the new chapters in his "people's" lives, as they begin to make new lives outside of his home with their spouses. He misses the sounds of babies and the pitter-patter of children's feet; Hilary Mantel virtually reached out of the book with her writing and made you feel everything. What an amazing piece of work.

I look forward to her second book and I recommend this to anyone interested in historical fiction, particularly the Tudors, but I would also recommend this to those interested in political strategy and intrigue. It's quite the story, one you just will not forget. (Just remember that when you see the word "he," more than likely it's probably Cromwell speaking or thinking the thoughts.)

Major Events
  1. Cristophe joins the household at Austin Friars. (How many people will Cromwell take in? A young man with a shady past, he is loyal and ready to be a Cromwell man. I wouldn't mind having this kid on my side as well; as Cromwell points out, Cristophe is like a version of Cromwell.)
  2. In 1533, Lady Anne and King Henry finally take their wedding vows. Anne is crowned Queen of England shortly thereafter.
  3. Cromwell gets a new post, chancellor of the exchequer.
  4. Thomas More is pronounced as poor. (I must admit, this made me happy. I felt the man was a vile nut job, so his misery didn't bother me in the least bit. Especially when it was alluded to that he was more interested in his daughter and not his wife).
  5. Anne gives birth to a girl, then loses her second child while giving birth.
  6. Cromwell takes in Elizabeth Barton, the "prophetess" and begins to question her. Away from the priests and monks who touted her as someone who could communicate directly with God, she is now considered more ordinary. She confesses that she is a fraud and is eventually executed.
  7. Mary Boleyn is pregnant with Lord Stafford's child. Anne thinks it's Henry's child so she puts Mary out. (Seriously, Anne, did you think Henry was actually going to be loyal to just you?)
  8. Richard is promised in marriage to a young woman of France.
  9. Rafe has secretly married Helen, another person Cromwell took in because she had two children with a husband who may have been dead and used to beat her all the time.
  10. Cromwell gets another title no one has ever held before: Vicegerent in Spirituals, deputy in church affairs.
  11. Thomas More is put to death. (No love lost there)
A few players that made me research more

Eustace Chapuys
Elizabeth Barton
Stephen Gardiner
Passages (the third one is my favorite)
For a moment, he seems like a carved statue, like a simpler form of himself, or one of his own ancestors; one of the race of giants that roamed Britain, and left no trace of themselves except in the dreams of their petty descendants. (pg.413)

When a woman withdraws to give birth the sun may be shining but the shutters of her room are closed so she can make her own weather. She is kept in the dark so she can dream. Her dreams drift her far away, from terra firma to a marshy tract of land, to a landing stage, to a river where a mist closes over the farther bank, and earth and sky are inseparate; there she must embark toward life and death, a muffled figure in the stern directing the oars. In this vessel prayers are said that men never hear. Bargains are struck between a woman and her God. The river is tidal, ad between one feather-stroke and the next, her tide may turn. (pg. 447)

He is conscious that his son is taller than he is: not that it takes much. He steps sideways, though only in his mind, to see his boy with a painter's eye: a boy with fine white skin and hazel eyes, a slender angel of the second rank in a fresco dappled with damp, in some hill town far from here. He thinks of him as a page in a forest riding across vellum, dark curls crisp under a narrow band of gold; whereas the young men about every day, the young men of Austin Friars, are muscled like fighting dogs, hair cropped to stubble, eyes sharp as sword points. He thinks, Gregory is all he should be. He is everything I have a right to hope for: his openness, his gentleness, the reserve and consideration with which he holds back his thoughts till he has framed them. He feels such tenderness for him he thinks he might cry. (pg. 489)

The fate of people is made like this, two men in small rooms. Forget the coronations, the conclaves of cardinals, the pomp and processions. This is how the world changes: a counter pushed across a table, a pen stroke that alters the force of a phrase, a woman's sigh as she passes and leaves on the air a trail of orange flower or rose water; her hand pulling close the bed curtain, the discreet sigh of flesh against flesh. (pg.566)

Thank you to everyone who joined in the readalong and I'm so excited we finished! Post your thoughts on your blog and add the link to the Linky below (don't forget to visit the other participants).


  1. I'm glad you loved it, according to Mantel the second book is going to be much shorter as it focuses on a shorter more intense period of time.

    I can't wait.

  2. I really enjoyed this book and will read the trilogy. I suck at writing book reviews but I'm going to work on that in 2012 as I'm participating in a year-long challenge and would like to participate in more readalongs. I love your reviews...both the depth of thought and the format. Thank you for sponsoring this readalong. I doubt if I would have picked up (or known about) Wolf Hall without it.

  3. So glad that you enjoyed this one and am sad that I couldn't join in like I wanted to :( It sounds like something that I shouldn't miss and should try to get to when I can. Your helpful hints about the book will serve me in good stead, I think! Great review today!

  4. Well done!! I'm looking forward to the second book and the miniseries.

  5. Congratulations on finishing! And kudos to you for taking on such a chunkster during the holiday season!

  6. Kudos to you and Nicole for hosting this ... I won't be able to join you (my reading picks up in January with events for the bookshop). I'll be cheering you on :)

  7. I am behind...but loving the book and will hopefully finish up in the next day or two :)