Review #63: Wolf Hall

Wolf Hall



Narrator:  Simon Slater
Published by Macmillan Audio,

This books counts for

2011 Audio Book Challenge


I have heard a lot about this book, by other bloggers and friends, and I am glad I finally took time to listen to it – over 24 hours, but every minute was worth it.

As many readers have already said before me, it is stunning how the author manages to give a picture of the main characters so different from what history text books or even movies convey. If I ask you which of the two historical figures you dislike most, chances are you will choose Cromwell over Thomas More.

But this is all a question of perspective. The book begins with a violent scene where Cromwell as a boy is savagely beaten by his own father. Through his hard work, and amidst constant inner suffering related to his youth, and his wife and children he lost because of the plague, he manages to reach the highest office in the country after the King.

More positively, he is described having lots of affection and compassion for members of his household and young people he protected and helped in life. Never heard about any of that in history classes!

I could not but feel compassion myself for him at the end when he experiences conscience pangs after More’s execution.

To get to Thomas More now, the picture is far from the portrait of the martyr I was used to.
And here the narrator is fantastic in supporting the author’s perspective: the tome of voice he uses when he narrates More is full of contempt, and More appears really as a repulsive character. In the whole book, the narrator was excellent at sticking to the author’s point, just by modulating his tone of voice, and of course accents as well, for instance for the French ambassador.

The book may have been more difficult for me in its written form, but I found it so lively in its audio form, thanks to its great narrator.

It is really a pleasure to rediscover history, and to see that things were not always as black and white as they were presented to me at school. Now I have heard that a sequel is coming. I will not wait for 2 years to read it for sure.

If you would like to refresh your history about the beginning of the schism with  Henry VIII, Catherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn, this book  is for you.

I invite you to read my review of volume 2: Bring Up The Bodies.

ADDED on 9/1/21:
And my review of Book 3: The Mirror and the Light
Added on 9/2/21:
In 2015, Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies (vol. 2) were adapted in a 6 part series entitled Wolf Hall, with fantastic actors, especially Mark Rylance and Damian Lewis. Highly recommended!


“Lock Cromwell in a deep dungeon in the morning,” says Thomas More, “and when you come back that night he’ll be sitting on a plush cushion eating larks’ tongues, and all the gaolers will owe him money.”

England, the 1520s. Henry VIII is on the throne, but has no heir. Cardinal Wolsey is his chief advisor, charged with securing the divorce the Pope refuses to grant. Into this atmosphere of distrust and need comes Thomas Cromwell, first as Wolsey’s clerk, and later his successor. Cromwell is a wholly original man: the son of a brutal blacksmith, a political genius, a briber, a charmer, a bully, a man with a delicate and deadly expertise in manipulating people and events.

Ruthless in pursuit of his own interests, he is as ambitious in his wider politics as he is for himself. His reforming agenda is carried out in the grip of a self-interested parliament and a king who fluctuates between romantic passions and murderous rages.

From one of our finest living writers, Wolf Hall is that very rare thing: a truly great English novel, one that explores the intersection of individual psychology and wider politics. With a vast array of characters, and richly overflowing with incident, it peels back history to show us Tudor England as a half-made society, moulding itself with great passion and suffering and courage. [Goodreads]


Hilary Mantel was born in Glossop, Derbyshire, England on 6 July 1952. She studied Law at the London School of Economics and Sheffield University. She was employed as a social worker, and lived in Botswana for five years, followed by four years in Saudi Arabia, before returning to Britain in the mid-1980s. In 1987 she was awarded the Shiva Naipaul Memorial Prize for an article about Jeddah, and she was film critic for The Spectator from 1987 to 1991.

Her novels include Eight Months on Ghazzah Street (1988), set in Jeddah; Fludd (1989), set in a mill village in the north of England and winner of the Winifred Holtby Memorial Prize, the Cheltenham Prize and the Southern Arts Literature Prize; A Place of Greater Safety (1992), an epic account of the events of the French revolution that won the Sunday Express Book of the Year award; A Change of Climate (1994), the story of a missionary couple whose lives are torn apart by the loss of their child; and An Experiment in Love (1995), about the events in the lives of three schoolfriends from the north of England who arrive at London University in 1970, winner of the 1996 Hawthornden Prize.

Her recent novel The Giant, O’Brien (1998) tells the story of Charles O’Brien who leaves his home in Ireland to make his fortune as a sideshow attraction in London. Her latest books are Giving Up the Ghost: A Memoir (2003), an autobiography in fiction and non-fiction, taking the reader from early childhood through to the discoveries in adulthood that led her to writing; and Learning to Talk: Short Stories (2003).

Hilary Mantel’s novel Beyond Black (2005) tells the story of Alison, a Home Counties psychic, and her assistant, Colette. It was shortlisted for a 2006 Commonwealth Writers Prize and for the 2006 Orange Prize for Fiction. Her latest novel Wolf Hall (2009) won the 2009 Man Booker Prize for Fiction. [Goodreads]


22 thoughts on “Review #63: Wolf Hall

  1. Pingback: 2011 Audio Book Challenge « Words And Peace

  2. I just finished this book and agree with everything you said in your review. While the story has been told before, the perspective was refreshing. Also, I was floored by the the use of violence for justice. I remember hearing about all the beheadings and stake burnings but to read them litigiously rationalized was unsettling.


    • yes, I agree with your last statement and wished things had changed, but unfortunately, they have not, even in countries generally considered as “civilized”. Great reviews on your site! thanks for your comment


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  4. Thanks for a really interesting review of a fairly weighty book. I think this is one that definitely benefits from being listened to rather than being read – Mantel’s style is so unique that many will find it hard-going.

    I really enjoyed the novel, I found the imagining of Tudor England incredibly atmospheric, and the portrayal of Cromwell seductive.

    My review is here, if interested:


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