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Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Audiobook Review: Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
Book 1 of Thomas Cromwell trilogy
Unabridged, 24 hr. 19 min.
Macmillan Audio
Simon Slater (Narrator)
October 20, 2009
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Genre: Historical Fiction (literary fiction)

Source: Borrowed audio from Arleigh at Historical-Fiction.com
“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.”
Alright, right off I’m going to tell you that I didn't really like this book like most others that I talk to, and there are quite a few reasons why, which I will elaborate on in a few lines. I have actually attempted to read this book twice. I had received this book for review back in 2009 and could not get myself past about page 30. Every time that I picked it up to read it I would find myself falling asleep. At first I thought it was because I was just tired at that time, but I would still have similar problems when I read it the second time. So I stopped reading it and gave it away to a fellow blogger.

Time elapsed – a year and a half passed – and I read so many awesome raving reviews of the book I thought maybe I had missed something. I decided I would think about trying it again on audiobook this time (a great narrator can really make a difference). Arleigh at Historical-Fiction.com offered to let me borrow her audio copy and I took her up on the opportunity. The second time around was better and I will give all of the credit to the narrator and audio production because I still didn’t love the story.

I had a difficult time staying interested in this novel because it never felt like anything was happening. I have been told that this is a hallmark of literary fiction – which focuses more on style and characters – and if that is the case, I guess literary fiction is not for me. I certainly like to have depth of characters and well written prose, but I want to know that over the 600-ish pages there are plot points and excitement and in general, things that happen. I learned a lot about the character of Thomas Cromwell, who was relatively new to me and often serves more as a periphery character in other’s stories. He was also portrayed as more of a sympathetic character as opposed to the mostly negative depictions of him in other works of literature. I didn’t like the point of view – everything was “he”, “he”, “he” – and at several points I totally lost track as to who was being described. I also felt that the ending was very abrupt – I was waiting for the story to wrap up, but apparently that wasn’t meant to be.

Also, my biggest question, what the heck is up with the title? They never went to Wolf Hall, nothing happened at Wolf Hall, nothing critical related to Wolf Hall happened, and the only connection to it (Jane Seymour) was a minor character. If someone could explain this to me I would be very grateful.


Now, the audio production on the other hand, was quite good. The narrator did a fabulous job of portraying different characters, accents, female characters, etc. He even had to do a little singing at one point. There were some very minor sound effects used in the production – the one that stands out most in my mind was the use of a lute-type instrument during the singing portion. It certainly added to the experience. I can safely say that this book would have remained a DNF if I had not chosen to listen to it on audio. The narrator was the saving grace for me.

You can listen to an excerpt from the audio below

Reviews of this book by other bloggers:

Buy the Book: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | RJ Julia

Also by Hilary Mantel

bring up the bodies
Bring up the Bodies (Thomas Cromwell #2)
[My Review]

image coming soon
The Mirror and the Light (Thomas Cromwell #3)

Find Hilary Mantel: Website | Facebook

Copyright © 2011 by The Maiden’s Court


  1. I am sorry that you didn't enjoy the book. I loved this book! It's quite unlike other historical fiction. You're right that it's not very plot-driven. But somehow that didn't bother me at all.

  2. I admit--I've read other works by Mantel and was left rather unfulfilled. About the title--I swear this was released under a different title somewhere else that maybe made more sense? Thanks for this review--I'm glad I'm not alone in my lukewarm-on-Mantel experience :)

  3. My theory on the title (which has been the same since the beginning) - it's symbolic in a couple of ways. Wolf Hall is the family seat of the Seymours, which represents Cromwell's forward-thinking attitude (he's got his eye on Jane at the end). Plus it shows the rapaciousness of the royal court, where one can be torn apart by enemies with little warning. Try going to Google Books, look up Wolf Hall, and search for "wolf" or "wolves." Quite a few deliberate mentions in the text, though easy to miss otherwise.

  4. Misha - I'm glad you enjoyed it. I didn't hate it - but I didn't love it. Just not for me!

    Rowenna - glad I found someone too!

    Sarah - I can see the references to wolves, I just think it could have been named better because throughout the whole thing you think it will have to do more of the Seymours.

  5. You're not the first blogger I've read who's been underwhelmed by this -- it's low on my TBR from all the praise but perhaps I'll try another Mantel or save this for a roadtrip and do the audio, per your recommendation.

  6. Audra - the audio was decent, and if you enjoy the story the audio should only add to it.

  7. Aw I'm sorry this was a stinker sweetie. Sometimes these things happen. Kudos for finishing because you know me, down it goes when I lose interest.

  8. I hate when you stumble across a book you wish you could love, but can't. I'm having that same issue with one of my current reads. It's not like you hate the book, but you just don't like it either. Better luck on your next review though!

  9. Jenny - I know you do! I have always been one of those that feels an obligation to finish a book (even one that was not received for review), but this has eased recently!

    Carole Rae - I'm sorry your current read isn't fantastic. Yeah, this one was just blah to me.

  10. WOLF HALL is on my TBR List, but not high up. I have heard such good reviews, but obviously not everyone loves it.
    I feel obligated to finish a book when I start it. The only one I didn't manage was WAR AND PEACE. I started it 3 or 4 times in college and never got past page 80 or so. Since then I have finished everything with hopes that it would get better.
    Literary historical doesn't need to be dry. They are using the same information everyone else uses to write fiction.
    I'll give the audio a try. I have "read" and enjoyed many books that way. A good narrator puts the extra touch that can bring a book to life.

    Thanks for the review.

  11. LibraryPat - Oh War and Peace? I'm a little scared myself to even think of trying it! If I were to read it at all it would HAVE to be on audio.

  12. I've just finished reading this and, as one who doesn't read a lot of historical fiction, it's really interesting to hear the opinion of someone who does.

    I really enjoyed Mantel's vision of Tudor England, and her portrayal of Cromwell. The writing was so atmospheric that I felt transported back to the brutal times.

    My review: Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

  13. Matthew - I'm glad that you enjoyed the book. I'm glad that I read it to see what it was about, but it just wasn't for me. Thanks for the link to your review.


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