My rating: 2 of 5 stars
I treat this novel as a qualified failure of an experiment (qualified since I am open to the possibility that the failure was mine) and I sincerely wish that Mantel does not win the Booker this year – I just cannot bring myself to spend anymore time with her lifeless narrator.
More than anything else Wolf Hall seemed to me to be a literary experiment – on how closely a woman can get into a man’s mind, and as far as I am concerned, a qualified failure. I could never truly feel that the narration that the narration was being executed by a male voice, it was as if a woman narrator residing inside a captive male character was telling the story and every time a ‘he’ or ‘his’ comes along, it resulted in a string of confused stumblings over adjectives before I remembered again (many times) that it is of himself that the narrator is talking about. Eventually I came to understand the reason for this jarring feeling – it was not because I was not reading thoroughly enough, it was because I couldn’t think of the narrator as a ‘he’ – it just didn’t cut it, especially when he/she informed me with wonder of how men embrace other men.
I wish Mary Boleyn had been the narrator, she was the only ‘real’ person in this narrative peopled by artificial characters, only she had an authentic voice to me and I can’t help but feel that she was the character that Mantel most identified with – the novel came alive and took such vibrancy every time Mary entered the narrator’s field of vision, like a deprived woman lighting up at the sight of a beautiful mirror to finally examine herself!
As I said, I am open to the fact that my bad experience was due to a failure of imagination on my part, so I hope fans of this book will take pity on my deprived pleasure and be gentle in their recriminations.
Come to think of it I really cannot think of any book I have read in which a novelist tries to get so intimate with the mind of a narrator of the opposite sex. So maybe my problem was not a failure of imagination but a poverty of literary experience as I haven’t encountered such an effort before; maybe I need to read some Hardy.
I also believe that if there were less ‘Thomas’s in the story, I could have still come out the better in this expedition. So there.
- Wolf Hall vs. The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet (alastairsavage.wordpress.com)
- Book Review: Cromwell’s Long Game (magnificentnose.com)
- Bring Up the Bodies: a sequel to Wolf Hall (gcbooks.wordpress.com)