Wolf Hall - finished at last!

Posted by Guy Pringle, 15th September 2010

I wouldn't say I understood all of Wolf Hall but I did want to finish it and found myself sad when the end arrived. Whether I'll be up for reading the continuation Ms Mantel is currently working on is yet to be decided but there's no denying the quality of her writing. Here at newbooks Towers, I caused some ripples when I commented that I thought it a far superior book to, say, Sarah Waters' The Little Stranger. Alison maintains that book marks a sea change in Ms Waters' work and that she is proving herself to be in the very front rank of our literary novelists. We shall see but Hilary Mantel is most definitely there already.

One minor quibble with Wolf Hall, though, is the persistent use of He/he for the lead character, Thomas Cromwell. With extensive and convoluted dialogue to absorb I lost count of the number of times I had to go back over a half page to make sense of who was saying what.

Now, I willingly acknowledge that I am a bear of little brain but a more generous use of his surname (or forename – even though there are several Thomas’s in the story) would have made it easier AND more enjoyable to read. Suffice to say, I know of several dedicated readers who have started but failed to complete the book – and that can’t be good for an author.

In the interview included at the back of the book - and who can complain at nearly 700 pages of erudition for £8.99 - the author says of her decision to write in the present tense that 'it was a way for [her] to capture the soundtrack inside Cromwell's head'. I can't help wondering - if she'd also written it in the first person whether the experience would have been further heightened - and made clearer to the reader?



Brenda Hance said...

Well done for finishing this book! I'm one of those dedicated readers who gave up and have to admit that it was the use of the he/she present tense that put me off. While I'm here, thanks for the magazine, it's great and I look forward to reading it every two months. I'm also loving being a reviewer though not a very prompt one.

Posted on Thu 16 Sep 2010 @ 23:31

Nicola Barranger said...

So many people gave up on this one including me, which as you say can't be good for the author. It also begs the question, who is she writing for? For the reader or the judges. The judges clearly lovely it, but I like one reviewer I know started to get angry. Such a shame because there are passages which are truly stunning and moments when I was absolutely there in the scene. I went to a Hilarly Mantel appearance and she certainly made me want to read the book. Someone I know said that they did finish it, but they weren't quite sure it was worth the supreme effort!

Posted on Sat 18 Sep 2010 @ 17:09

Mandy Jenkinson said...

I must say I agree with you about The Little Stranger, it does indeed mark a sea change, but in a very negative way. I feel personally that Sarah Waters has out-written herself - her first Victorian novels were written with such verve and energy, and now she seems to have descended into formulaic fiction and is resting, I fear, on her laurels. Most definitely not in the front rank of our literary novelists, but falling way behind. I found it unreadable to be honest.
However, Wolf Hall was a joy and a delight! Can't wait for the next. I accept your point about it sometimes being confusing, but I forgive her....

Posted on Sat 18 Sep 2010 @ 18:04

alisonwearden said...

Just visited the site after a few weeks break and noticed this post. I thought I was the only person who had struggled with the 'who said/thought that' issue. Some first person narration would surely have been easier to understand at the first attempt. I found myself frequently re-reading several pages to make sure I had understood who was speaking, and then not being entirely sure I had worked it out correctly! Other than that, a brilliant read.

Posted on Fri 22 Oct 2010 @ 14:05

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