I'm always wary of reading books with a list of fantastic reviews a mile long. That's probably why Wolf Hall languished on my shelves for too long. I finally picked it up last week and, despite the length, I read it fairly rapidly. That's an endorsement if ever there was one.
Briefly, Wolf Hall charts the rise of Thomas Cromwell from a blacksmith's boy to his place as one of Henry VIII's key advisers. A great chunk of the novel takes place during Henry's attempts to legalise his divorce from his first wife and marry Anne Boleyn. The characterisation in this novel is exemplary. Mantel has taken characters we know from perhaps a few traits and fashioned them into instruments and human beings. The setting is also magnificent. I can't comment on the historical accuracy, but it certainly gives off the impression of being immersed in the era. We're so far removed from this part of our heritage and yet we're fascinated with it. Mantel surely is and the love of it shows in every sentence. It's a hefty book, yes, but one thoroughly enjoyable in terms of characterisation, setting and plot.
However, a couple of stylistic things grated on me as I progressed. The use of the present tense proved difficult for me personally. I understand why Mantel decided to use it but in a book of this magnitude it kept drawing attention to itself. In a smaller work it might have passed unnoticed. Secondly, the referral of Thomas Cromwell as 'he' almost constantly was a little confusing at times, especially considering the number of men present in the novel. These were personal gripes, though, and I can understand other readers having no problems with them. They didn't detract from my enjoyment of the novel as a whole and I look forward to reading the sequel at some point in the future.