Fiction — print. Henry Holt and Company, 2012. 411 pgs. Advanced Review Copy.
This book is the sequel to Mantel’s Man Booker Prize winning novel, Wolf Hall, and explores the downfall of Anne Boleyn from an unexpected source — Thomas Cromwell, Henry VIII’s chief minister and confidant. Cromwell is desperate to remove the influence of the Boleyns from the Tudor court, but this battle means he must ally with his enemies because the Boleyns are not willing to give up their influence and Anne is not willing to hand over her throne to Jane Seymour.
You should know that I have not read Wolf Hall. The title has languished on my TBR list since its publication, and I was forced to return it to the library in May least I begin racking up the late fees by bringing it with me to another city. However, having read about the Tudors extensively, I accepted a copy of this sequel for review. At the end of this book, Mantel mentions in her author’s note that Cromwell is still missing a definitive biography. That could have been the source of my problem with this book – I’m not familiar with Cromwell. Clearly, I should have done more research. (Or, you know, read Wolf Hall first.)
I really struggled with the structure of this novel. The compilation of first-person, third-person, and narrative meant I never really could tell whose eyes I was seeing the story from. This is particularly important during the downfall of Anne Boleyn considering the intrigue and backstabbing occurring over the time period of this novel. My understanding was further complicated by the decision to jump back and forth between “current” times and reminiscing over past events, and following the scant dialogue was difficult at best. Other times, it was downright impossible to determine who was speaking. Despite the (relatively) short time period over which the novel takes place, this plodding novel only picks up the pace at the end of Anne’s trial.
I did like Mantel’s handling of Jane Rochford. Most authors attempt to paint her as a villain without reasoning, but Mantel sets up an interesting backstory for why Jane was willing to implicate not only her sister-in-law but also her husband in the adultery case. I also enjoyed seeing how Cromwell handled Anne’s execution largely because he finally became “human” to me. In recognizing the relative ease in which removing Anne was carried out, Cromwell recognizes his own fears of the future and the instability of his own life. A rather deep moment.