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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Wolf Hall

Hilary Mantel

[an overview of the reviews and critical reactions]

general information | review summaries | links | about the author

To purchase Wolf Hall

Title: Wolf Hall
Author: Hilary Mantel
Genre: Novel
Written: 2009
Length: 560 pages
Availability: Wolf Hall - US
Wolf Hall - UK
Wolf Hall - Canada
Wölfe - Deutschland

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Why we haven't reviewed it yet:

Haven't gotten our hands on a copy yet

Chances that we will review it:

Slim -- like her work, and the reviews make it sound tempting, but it's still a heap of historical fiction

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Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Financial Times A 25/5/2009 Julie Myerson
The Guardian . 2/5/2009 Christopher Tayler
The Independent . 8/5/2009 Marianne Brace
London Rev. of Books . 30/4/2009 Colin Burrow
The LA Times A 8/10/2009 Ross King
New Statesman . 21/5/2009 Rachel Aspden
The NY Rev. of Books A+ 5/11/2009 Stephen Greenblatt
The NY Times . 5/10/2009 Janet Maslin
The NY Times Book Rev. . 1/11/2009 Christopher Benfey
The New Yorker . 19/10/2009 Joan Acocella
San Francisco Chronicle A 6/12/2009 Joan Frank
Scotland on Sunday . 3/5/2009 Stuart Kelly
The Spectator A+ 13/5/2009 Anne Chisholm
Sunday Times B+ 3/5/2009 Andrew Holgate
The Telegraph A 28/4/2009 Lucy Hughes-Hallett
The Telegraph . 1/5/2009 Claudia FitzHerbert
The Times A+ 25/4/2009 Vanora Bennett
TLS . 15/5/2009 Michael Caines
Wall St. Journal A 10/10/2009 Martin Rubin
The Washington Post A 6/10/2009 Wendy Smith

  Review Consensus:

  Very positive -- and see it as a possible breakout book for her

  From the Reviews:
  • "Wolf Hall is a fantastically well-wrought, detailed and convincing novel (....) There is so much to praise in Wolf Hall (.....) Despite its length, the pace is fast. A couple of hundred pages in, you feel as if you might drown in its volume. But you emerge at the end dazed and moved, properly infected by the period. It both is and isnít an easy read. (...) But where Mantel really excels is in the small, dark stuff." - Julie Myerson, Financial Times

  • "In Wolf Hall, Mantel persuasively depicts this beefy pen-pusher and backstairs manoeuvrer as one of the most appealing -- and, in his own way, enlightened -- characters of the period. (...) How do you write about Henry VIII without being camp or breathless or making him do something clunkily non-stereotypical ? Mantel attacks the problem from several angles, starting by knowing a lot about the period but not drawing attention to how strenuously she's imagining it. Meaty dialogue takes precedence over description, and the present-tense narration is so closely tied to the main character that Cromwell is usually called plain "he", even when it causes ambiguities. Above all, Mantel avoids ye olde-style diction, preferring more contemporary phrasing. (...) Lyrically yet cleanly and tightly written, solidly imagined yet filled with spooky resonances, and very funny at times, it's not like much else in contemporary British fiction." - Christopher Tayler, The Guardian

  • "Mantel's writing is taut; the dialogue sprints along, witty and convincing. She draws her extensive cast with deft strokes." - Marianne Brace, The Independent

  • "Mantelís chief method is to pick out tableaux vivants from the historical record -- which she has worked over with great care -- and then to suggest that they have an inward aspect which is completely unlike the version presented in history books. The result is less a historical novel than an alternative history novel. It constructs a story about the inner life of Cromwell which runs in parallel to scenes and pictures that we thought we knew. (...) Mantelís ability to pick out vivid scenes from sources and give them life within her fiction is quite exceptional." - Colin Burrow, London Review of Books

  • "Mantel's abilities to channel the life and lexicon of the past are nothing short of astonishing. She burrows down through the historical record to uncover the tiniest, most telling details, evoking the minutiae of history as vividly as its grand sweep. The dialogue is so convincing that she seems to have been, in another life, a stenographer taking notes in the taverns and palaces of Tudor England." - Ross King, The Los Angeles Times

  • "In the hands of Hilary Mantel, Tudor kitsch becomes something darker and less digestible. Wolf Hall takes a forensic slice through a nation caught between feudalism and capitalism, the Middle Ages and modernity, Catholicism and the revolutionary doctrines emerging from the Continent. (...) Mantelís prose, like her hero, is witty and tough-minded." - Rachel Aspden, New Statesman

  • "Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall is a startling achievement, a brilliant historical novel focused on the rise to power of a figure exceedingly unlikely, on the face of things, to arouse any sympathy at all. (...) This is a novel too in which nothing is wasted, and nothing completely disappears." - Stephen Greenblatt, The New York Review of Books

  • "This witty, densely populated book may experience a rough passage when it crosses the Atlantic. For readers not fully versed in the nuances of Englandís tangled royal bloodlines, not amused by Ms. Mantelís deliberate obliqueness (...) or not even familiar with the effect of the law of praemunire on the papacy, Wolf Hall has its share of stumbling blocks. (...) But her bookís main characters are scorchingly well rendered. And their sharp-clawed machinations are presented with nonstop verve in a book that can compress a wealth of incisiveness into a very few well-chosen words." - Janet Maslin, The New York Times

  • "Thomas Cromwell remains a controversial and mysterious figure. Mantel has filled in the blanks plausibly, brilliantly. Wolf Hall has epic scale but lyric texture. Its 500-plus pages turn quickly, winged and falconlike. (...) Hilary Mantelís Wolf Hall is both spellbinding and believable." - Christopher Benfey, The New York Times Book Review

  • "Mantelís characters do not speak sixteenth-century English. She has created for them an idiom that combines a certain archaism with vigorous modern English. It works perfectly. And how urbane her people are! (...) The prose is elastic. Sometimes itís elliptical. (...) Elsewhere it is full, or overfull." - Joan Acocella, The New Yorker

  • "Plot summary, for a 560-page novel that offers at its outset two charts of family trees and five pages of character names, proves a bit impractical. (...) Dialogue sings and crackles, in language that is at once lyrical, decorous and slangily modern (.....) His brilliant company, and the life-size pageant of his world, give such sustained pleasure that we are greedy for particulars of a story whose outcome, in theory, we already know." - Joan Frank, San Francisco Chronicle

  • "Mantel's triumph is to take a figure associated with ambition, scheming and avarice and transform him into a sympathetic, humane and supremely modern man. (...) Mantel's approach is oblique and ingenious. (...) Wolf Hall manages to unite her interests thus far. It is a novel about power, both political and supernatural, in which Cromwell manipulates the invisible web of profit just as disgruntled priests conjure up expedient prophets. Accountancy and astrology vie with each other." - Stuart Kelly, Scotland on Sunday

  • "With her brilliant new book, Hilary Mantel has not just written a rich, absorbingly readable historical novel; she has made a significant shift in the way any of her readers interested in English history will henceforward think about Thomas Cromwell (.....) She creates immediacy by using the present tense, and a sense of intimacy with the characters through dialogue. She gives their language period touches, but never falls into pastiche. The pieces of the jigsaw may be familiar, but she shuffles them around so that the full picture emerges only gradually, in bright fragments." - Anne Chisholm, The Spectator

  • "(A) vibrant, often compelling mix of the personal and the political (.....) Cromwell is an arrestingly complex figure in Mantelís retelling. (...) The book has many other alluring qualities. Mantelís characterisation is acute (...) Above all, Mantelís recreation of the era feels both accurate and natural. By focusing, not on the famous set-pieces, but on the human interaction taking place around them, she makes the reader complicit in the drama. (...) The effect, sadly, is to turn a potentially outstanding novel into merely a commendable one." - Andrew Holgate, Sunday Times

  • "This is a splendidly ambitious book, ample enough to hold a crowd of people and to encompass historical events across all of Europe (the sack of Rome is described in one vivid paragraph) and hint at at least another novelís worth of themes." - Lucy Hughes-Hallett, The Telegraph

  • "In lesser hands Cromwellís modern sympathies -- believing in nurture over nature, loving over burning, learning over prayer -- might make for a lifeless and anachronistic portrait. But the devil is in the language and Mantel animates the familiar story with great imagination. (...) Mantel knows how to build a picture from the parts available, with nothing extraneous and everything layered." - Claudia FitzHerbert, The Telegraph

  • "But as soon as I opened the book I was gripped. I read it almost non-stop. When I did have to put it down, I was full of regret the story was over, a regret I still feel. This is a wonderful and intelligently imagined retelling of a familiar tale from an unfamiliar angle -- one that makes the drama unfolding nearly five centuries ago look new again, and shocking again, too." - Vanora Bennett, The Times

  • "Unusually for a novel 650 pages long, Wolf Hall is written in the present tense, which enhances its feverishness. This lends both people and their possessions a dramatic clarity, a presence, which an informed, retrospective viewpoint, left almost entirely to the readerís imagination, might have marred. We are not looking back at a path through time, but trying to find our way onward, and uncertainty reigns. (...) In this way, the novel becomes a play, becomes a gallery, conscious of its own framing devices, and is all the richer for being a historiographical as well as a historical novel." - Michael Caines, Times Literary Supplement

  • "Ms. Mantel has a knack for getting under the skin of her characters and capturing them (one feels) as they must have been" - Martin Rubin, Wall Street Journal

  • "(F)rom this seemingly shopworn material, Hilary Mantel has created a novel both fresh and finely wrought: a brilliant portrait of a society in the throes of disorienting change, anchored by a penetrating character study of Henry's formidable advisor, Thomas Cromwell. (...) Wolf Hall is uncompromising and unsentimental, though alert readers will detect an underlying strain of gruff tenderness. Similarly, Mantel's prose is as plain as her protagonist (who's sensitive about his looks), but also (like Cromwell) extraordinarily flexible, subtle and shrewd." - Wendy Smith, The Washington Post

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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Wolf Hall: Reviews: Hilary Mantel: Other books by Hilary Mantel under Review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of Contemporary British fiction

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About the Author:

       English author Hilary Mantel was born in 1952. Author of several highly praised novels, she won the Hawthornden Prize in 1996.

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© 2009-2010 the complete review

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