This is a long book – over 650 pages – and it’s taken a while for me to finish it. But it was worth it.
I’m not particularly a fan of historical novels, but the book had a lot of press attention before and after it had won the Boooker Prize and the story captured my interest.
Thomas Cromwell has had a “bad press” in most works of history and literature but Mantel is very much on his side. He’s portrayed very sympathetically as a man driven by principle and not just personal ambition (although he clearly had plenty of that too). The Catholic Church and the “sainted” Thomas More, are portrayed much less sympathetically as reactionaries and vicious persecutors of “heretics” – an accurate picture, in my opinion.
Cromwell certainly was ambitious, rising from a very humble background to high state office. He was clearly very bright and knew how to position himself to his best advantage. But he was a progressive – seeing through changes that allowed England to start to drag itself out of the Middle Ages, bringing in religious and political reforms that paved the way for the development of a more modern society. Starting a process that would be built on by his ancestor, Oliver.
AS for the book; the story was difficult to follow at times – the plot is complex and,there are a lot of characters who pop in and out. This wasn’t helped by the structure of the book, a few long chapters broken down into episodes and it wasn’t always obvious that there was a change of scene. However, it was worth persevering.
Mantel writes well, the story progressing gradually rather than building to a climax. This was the first of her books that I’ve read. Her others have never particularly appealed to me, but having enjoyed “Wolf Hall” perhaps I should try another of her novels.
Picture credit – Wikipedia