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Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel (Books 2020, 25)

Read this for my course. It’s very good, unsurprisingly. Historical fiction isn’t usually my thing (Neal Stephenson’s The Baroque Cycle notwithstanding) It has a striking stylistic tic — if that’s the right word — in the way she refers to Thomas Cromwell. It’s always ‘he said,’ or ‘he did such-and-such’; very occasionally, for clarity, ‘he, Cromwell…’ But never just, ‘Cromwell said…’

Not a big deal, but in a work of this size, it stands out. It feels significant. And it is; ‘tic’ is the wrong word for something so definite, so chosen. Mantel has said that she wanted the viewpoint to be ‘over Cromwell’s shoulder.’ So ‘he’, rather than ‘Cromwell.’

One of the most subtle things about it as how Cromwell switches from just being an advisor to the king to rounding up certain priests, and I don’t really understand how it happened. It’s a masterpiece of characterisation.

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