Sunday, 7 March 2010

Wolf Hall (2)

Two days in. Is it - could it be? - living up to the hype? Well, I'll begin by allaying fears that my adoration of The Children's Book may have been shaken; it hasn't, not one bit. AS Byatt was robbed of the Booker, and I stand by that view. That does not, however, mean that Wolf Hall doesn't deserve its many accolades. It is everything you have heard it is - it is unputdownable, the ultimate, "oh, I'll just read the next little bit" book. I'm over my dislike of the present tense; it's so well worked that it feels right, the correct way for this story to be told. But there is another problem, and it's a peculiar one; not one I've ever come across before. It almost feels like an experiment, and I'm not sure that the results are positive. Let me explain: unless he is being addressed by another character, Cromwell's name is never used. The story is told in third person, thereby making use of the omniscient narrator, yet this narrator only ever calls Cromwell "he". The problem arises when another male character is also referred to by the pronoun - you reach a point where you simply can't tell if the "he" you are reading about is Cromwell or the last named male. Here is a short yet simple example:

"That's like Suffolk; to think the letter of the law is some kind of luxury. He whispers to the cardinal again..."

That "He" refers to Cromwell, even though the last named male was Suffolk. I've read whole pages, only to realise that though I thought I was reading about one character, I was actually reading about Cromwell, and I have to re-read it replacing the image in my head with the correct one.

This vexation aside, I am enjoying it. The constant use of the pronoun, combined with the present tense, gives a genuine sensation of being inside Cromwell's head. It is set out almost as a play, with scenes, which is very appropriate, as I think we tend to see the whole Tudor era as some sort of theatrical performance anyway. It reminds me in tone of Christopher Rush's Will, crossed with - I hate to say it, but I can't hide from the truth - The Other Boleyn Girl.

And though it's absolutely no fault of Hilary Mantel's, I find it terribly frustrating that my image of Henry VIII is no longer of a paunchy, fine-calved red-head, but of Jonathan Rhys-Meyers. And I didn't even watch The Tudors!


Alison said...

It sounds like I am going to love this book...I just hope I can stick with the tricky prose style!

Micaella Lopez said...

I loved the plot of course, but the clever unfolding of it by the shaping force behind it: the narrator. Brilliant writing in the vernacular of the day and a page-turner!

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