Saturday, February 20, 2010

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

A while ago, I posted about participating in the Complete Booker 2010 Challenge. Well, I finally finished the first Booker Prize winner - Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel, which just so happens to be the 2009 winner. This was an easy first choice since this book was already on my to be read (tbr) list.

Wolf Hall is a novel that deals with the reign of Henry VIII during the time period when he was striving to divorce Katherine of Aragon so that he could marry Anne Boleyn. There are plenty of books, both fiction and non-fiction, covering this topic, and I've read quite a few of them. But Wolf Hall is unique in that it is presented from the point of view of Thomas Cromwell, Henry's chief minister, and the man who made Henry's divorce and remarriage(s) possible. I have a fascination for this period in English history and I've read many books about this time period. But Wolf Hall is the first one I have read that presents the story from Cromwell's perspective. I found it interesting to see the events from his eyes. It was also illuminating to see the other major players in this drama as Cromwell might have viewed them. As often as I've read and studied the Tudor period, it is always interesting to come at it from another direction.

As much as I enjoyed Wolf Hall, I'm not sure it's for everyone. It's a very detailed account of the events of the period and unless the reader has an interest in this topic, I think it could be a bit dense. It took me almost two weeks to finish this book, which is about three times longer than I normally spend reading a book. If I didn't have a real fascination with the topic, I doubt I would have finished it. And I think this may be part and parcel of reading award winning books. They are denser and heavier than their non-award winning counterparts. And this is the very reason why I wanted to participate in this challenge. I'm ready to stretch myself in my reading. For the past 13 years or so I've been reading primarily contemporary literary fiction. And I would classify Wolf Hall as literary fiction. A genre I've struggled with in the past. Part of the problem is that I'm impatient. I want to read a book quickly so that I can move on to the next one on my tbr list. I had to keep reminding myself while reading this book that this is not a race. These more literary books are meant to be savored, like a luscious multi-course meal at a classy restaurant. But I must admit that I'm now deep into a wonderful contemporary literary fiction book* and I'm just so thrilled to be devouring it quickly. I think for me, literary fiction, like super fancy meals in super fancy restaurant, is meant to be enjoyed infrequently. My everyday reading needs to be something I can devour with gusto. But who knows? Maybe by the time I finish this Booker Challenge, I'll be wanting to enjoy those sophisticated reads more frequently. We'll see....

I would give Wolf Hall 3 stars - I liked it.

The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox by Maggie O'Farrell (book review coming soon).

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