I particularly love the Tudors therefore this book was just screaming read me. I'd say I have quite a lot of knowledge of the events within this book; I have learnt in detail about Henry VIII's first and second marriages and the rise and fall of Thomas Cromwell. (The rise of Cromwell is focused upon in Wolf Hall and his fall in Mantel's second book Bring up the Bodies)
Photo taken from Goodreads.
To begin with I had a really difficult time reading this book because of Mantel's use of 'he' every few sentences. At first I just couldn't grip who she was talking about; was it different people each time or was 'he' consistently the same person? After way too many pages than I'd like to admit, I finally realised 'he' was always Cromwell. This helped me a lot to actually understand the book but it still aggravated me so much!
As for the plot it does follow real events well; Henry VIII is married to Katherine of Aragon and she only manages to produce a female and becomes too old to conceive any more children so Henry must get rid. The story follows Wolsey's attempts to get Henry an annulment and then how Cromwell achieves this. Obviously it isn't that simple but that's what it is all based on. After this, Henry's marriage with Anne Boleyn. The thing is, it is all through Cromwell's viewpoint and we follow his life from being a teenage boy with family problems to his rise to Henry's side. I really enjoyed seeing all the events from Cromwell's eyes, someone who can often be overlooked.
This book is around 650 pages and unfortunately for me, I only really liked the last 200 or so pages. I forced myself through a lot of this book, particularly at the beginning. I can't really pinpoint what it was I disliked so much. I just couldn't get my head around what was happening but maybe that is because there was seemingly nothing happening for at least the first half of the book or maybe because of the sheer amount of characters within the book making it difficult to keep track of who was who and what house they were from.
I did like the way Cromwell was portrayed through the book, often seen as a man without much emotion and only really showing emotion when he lost some of his family and when alone when he thought about his deceased family. I could really imagine the way Cromwell acted in the book, being very sly and sharp but taking no interest in women when the women were obviously 'flirting' with him. I did really enjoy how he was drawn to Jane Seymour, a woman who seemed like a mystery to him. One thing I did like is the way Mantel portrayed her characters as I've just mentioned with Cromwell. I also really enjoyed her portrayal of Anne Boleyn as it felt like that's exactly how I thought her to be but Mantel had put it on paper in such subtle ways at times.
One aspect I did not like was the title of the book. 'Wolf Hall' refers to the household of the Seymour family. The family were hardly mentioned within the story other than an affair and Cromwell's fancy for Jane. I was left wondering about the reason for the title until the very last sentence and that really got on my nerves. The book had little to do with the Seymour family and I like for a book to have a better meaning for its title.
Overall, this was a difficult read which I took a while to get through but once I (finally) got to the last 200 (ish) pages, I seemed to really get into the story and got through it much easier. I felt that if the whole book was as good as the final third then I would have absolutely loved it. This negativity however, will not dissuade me from reading her follow up book Bring up the Bodies which I hope to read in the near future.