x293Wolf Hall | Hilary Mantel | 4th Estate | 2009 | RRP $22.99 | 9780008381691 | 672 pages

Armed with a cursory knowledge of Tudor history, but determined to finally read Hilary Mantel’s lauded trilogy opener in preparation for the publication of The Mirror and the Light, I read Wolf Hall in patches over the course of two weeks, and found myself simultaneously impressed by the scope of the work and its fascinating historical detail, and bewildered by the sheer number of characters and machinations.

Mantel luxuriates in this retelling of Henry VIII’s notorious marriage to Anne Boleyn and the rise of Thomas Cromwell. Rich historic details are presented at a stately pace as Mantel deftly balances the grand scale of her story with the interpersonal stories of its jam-packed cast. It’s impossible not to be impressed by Wolf Hall, it’s an audacious project saturated in sumptuous prose; but I always felt like a fly on the wall, and kept at arms length from its characters, rather than invested in their thoughts and feelings. It felt like I was reading a wonderfully spun historical account rather than actually partaking in it. Honestly, I was left a little cold; perhaps if I was better educated on the history I’d have enjoyed it more.

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