England in the 1520s. Henry VIII reigns but without a male heir to carry on the Tudor line. Desperate for a divorce from the Pope he demands his advisor Cardinal Wolsey secure the divorce for him. Thomas Cromwell is the ruthless and remarkable man who is first Wolsey's clerk, then his successor. Cromwell is a master manipulator, who has to perform the delicate balancing task between a selfish, irresponsible parliament and an unpredictable King Henry, who increasingly sees terror and tyranny as the methods by which he must rule England and secure an heir.
Winner of the Man Booker prize 2009, Hilary Mantel expertly transforms the reader into the world of the Tudors, one which we think we know from previous books and films, but one which Mantel superbly brings the unknown and everyday details of which to life on every page. Wolf Hall is a rare thing "“ a perfect balance between fact and fiction, an epic sweeping tale which also has the command of every small detail and minor character.
Wolf Hall was one of those books that I stumbled upon by accident and found myself surprisingly hooked by. Personally I am not a fan of historical fiction and at the risk of sounding sexist, see it as quite a woman orientated genre. Especially the Tudor era which I associated more with Blackadder 2 and the Carry on films (at times I couldn't help picturing Henry VIII with Sid James' face!). So when I started Wolf Hall, which had been recommended to me by a friend and I agreed to read partially when I heard it had won the booker prize, I expected to maybe get a chapter in and give up on it.
However the book is so well written and the character of Cromwell is so interesting that I was quickly hooked and found myself reading it in big sessions, sometimes up to a hundred pages or more. The strength of the book is that it makes every small aspect of this period seem real and believable, even in its description of the food and drink at court.
I wouldn't say I had been converted to historical fiction, but I would definitely recommend this and will be reading the sequel and Hilary Mantel's other novels.