If I were to rate the readability of Wolf Hall from a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being the tear-your-hair-out, scratch-your-head-in-frustration kind of difficult, then I’d give it a 6. Flat out.
My first attempt to read this was in January 2013. I got as far as a handful of chapters before I got utterly exasperated with the writing style – mainly, with Mantel’s penchant for pronouns, causing difficulties in identifying the actual person being referred to. Half the time, I didn’t know who was speaking, when reading a conversation – imagine my headache when three or more characters are involved in a dialogue. So I set the book aside and thought, perhaps I wasn’t ready.
I set to read it again last December, but again, I wasn’t successful. I didn’t think I cracked it open anyway; there were just too many books demanding for my attention. So: second attempt, another failure.
But I really, really wanted to read it, having won the Man Booker in 2009 and because it’s historical fiction – the setting of the novel is 16th century Tudor England, and I have a certain fondness for historical fiction. I don’t know a lot about that era as much as the next person, and I didn’t think Tudor history expertise was indispensable anyway. So I took the chance of asking people from the book club if anyone would be interested in reading it with me (what we call over there as “buddy reading”), just so I would have a specific pace to follow and someone to share thoughts with, whenever I would hit a bump in my reading. Fortunately, some friends were up to the challenge, and so I finally got to finish reading Wolf Hall.
Anyone who knows the basics of Tudor History would be able to easily pick up the storyline of Wolf Hall. The characters are the same people who have created an intriguing English history during that era: Henry VIII, the king famous for his many wives and under whose reign the ties between Catholic England and Rome were severed; Henry’s first wife, Catherine of Aragon, who suffered terribly in the hands of her husband; Anne Boleyn, the most famous and ambitious concubine I have ever read about, and Thomas Cromwell, the lawyer primarily but quietly responsible for the Protestantism of England – and for many other things that were to shape England’s future.