Many stories have been told of Henry VIII and the desperate measures he took to father a male heir to the Tudor throne, lest the country erupt in civil war.

In our times, we have Wolf Hall, the 2009 winner of the Man Booker Award, written by the novelist, Hilary Mantel. Meticulous research in the British Library led her to present Henry through the eyes of Thomas Cromwell, his advisor and later Chancellor in the 1500s.

What fires this story over 600 pages is the author’s minimalist style: paring the action to the bone, using exact language, thus compelling the reader’s engagement. Each chapter is composed of pieces, like distinct cameos with deft lines revealing strange beauties: violence juxtaposed by tenderness.

To cite one example as found on pages 148-49: “It was a wan morning, low unbroken clouds; the right filtering sparely through glass, the color of untarnished pewter. How mightily colored the king is, like the king in a new pack of cards: how small his flat eyes …”

Although this historical novel stunned me in places, Hilary Mantel’s language sweetened my palate with savory morsels.

For those interested in the art of writing, Wolf Hall is a must read.

 

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