Bibliophiliac is the space where one passionate, voracious reader reflects on books and the reading life. You will find reviews, analysis, links, and reflections on poetry and prose both in and out of the mainstream.

A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us. Franz Kafka

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Wolf Hall: Parts V and VI

Without the Wolf Hall Readalong, I'm not sure I would have finished reading this book. And yet, I'm glad I stuck it out. For readers who haven't yet read the novel and still might want to: Major Spoiler Alert.

Now that I've finally finished this novel, I find that there are two more novels planned to complete the story. That makes sense, because the novel ends on a note of incompleteness.

Hilary Mantel's 532 page novel Wolf Hall has as its hero Thomas Cromwell, and as its antagonist Thomas More, a historical figure who has been lionized in the play A Man for All Seaons. In Mantel's revisionist imagining, More is a far from attractive character. Mantel paints a mean-spirited More, unkind to his wife, relentless in his pursuit of heretics or political enemies, responsible for torture and death.

In contrast, Cromwell, of humble birth, a polyglot, is depicted as loyal, kind, compassionate, intelligent, and devoted to his family and his work. The story of Henry VIII, his battle to rid himself of one queen and wed another, and the legal battle to install Henry VIII as the head of the church of England are all told through the consciousness of Cromwell.

Every perception in the novel is filtered through Cromwell's senses, and his canny, intelligent mind. In parts V and VI of the novel, Cromwell draws even closer to both the king and to Anne Boleyn. Anne Boleyn finally gets her wish and becomes pregnant, weds Henry, and if crowned queen. The coronation is given a sumptuous description:
At every turn on the route there are pageants and living statues, recitations of her virtue and gifts of gold from city coffers, her white falcon emblem crowned and entwined with roses, and blossoms mashed and minced under the treading feet of the stout sixteen, so scent rises like smoke. The route is hung with tapestries and banners, and at the ground beneath the horses' hooves is graveled to prevent slipping,a dn the crowds restrained behind rails in case of riots and crush....So many fountains flowing with wine that it's hard to find one flowing with water.
Anne Boleyn is still an elusive, powerful, secretive character, and the power she holds over Henry is enormous while she is still carrying his possible heir. She gives birth to Elizabeth, who will be queen, but Henry is not pleased. A second pregnancy ends in miscarriage, and Anne's power over Henry waxes and wanes. Her time is almost up. And Jane Seymour has been a flitting presence, noticed by Cromwell.

The unpopularity of Anne (and her mysterious power over some men) is captured in this passage:
They compete to tell stories of how she is not worthy. Or not human. How she is a snake. Or a swan. Una candida cerva. One single white doe, concealed in leaves of silver-gray; shivering, she hides in the trees, waiting for the lover who will turn her back from animal to goddess.
The novel ends with Cromwell having seen More sentenced to death and executed. He sits alone at his desk, and writes these words: Early September. Five days. Wolf Hall.

I will defnitely be reading the next volume, Bring Up the Bodies, to see where Mantel takes the reader next.

Thanks to Natalie at Coffee and a Book Chick for coming up with the readalong-please check out her posts on the readalong, as well as the other participant's thoughts on Wolf Hall.


Natalie~Coffee and a Book Chick said...

For myself, without this readalong, I would have taken much longer to read it! Once I got past those initial 30 pages or so, it all started to click and have a rhythm for me, and I really enjoyed it. And I loved Cromwell! In this version, everything he did made such sense, and I just felt so bad when the things he wanted to happen in his personal life, just didn't happen at all. Broke my heart when it just seemed that he was closer to Rafe and Richard than his son Gregory, and the way it was written, you could sense that Gregory felt that distance as well. Such a beautifully told tale, and I cannot wait for book 2. We might need to do a readalong towards the end of the year so we can catch up again :)

Thanks so much for joining!

BookQuoter said...

Hi there. Just wanted to stop by and wish you and your family a happy new year.