#WolfHallReadalong2021 Update

Here we are at the end of March, and hopefully, the end of our (re)read of both Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies. A road trip holiday has delayed my ability to finish BUTB on time, but I’m close. Very, very close.

My (re)read of Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies has reminded me why Mantel won the Booker Prize for both these books. They really are a tour de force of incredible story-telling, combining an extensive amount of historical research with creative interpretation. The Mirror and the Light has a lot to live up to!

Henry VIII comes across as a man very much governed by his passions. An intelligent man no doubt, but nonetheless wholly at the mercy of his feelings, or perhaps more accurately, his dick. And as the undisputed leader of his kingdom, the fluctuating urges of his dick, meant that other people lost their heads. In such an environment, it is little wonder that those around him did and said what they had to do keep their heads on their shoulders for as long as possible. Allegiances and loyalties changed at the drop of a hat, and when the king’s favour began to waiver, the quick-witted changed course too, even if it meant abandoning long-term friendships and alliances.

Mantel recreates this world of constantly shifting sands with a grace and humour I had forgotten. Many of the players realise how precarious their positions were, and played the game for as long as they could. The thrill of the chase, the access to power and wealth, and the sense of belonging to a special in-group, fed ambition and hope.

Mantel lets us see inside Cromwell’s world, fleshing out this historic powerful man into a family man. A tender, loving, family man who slowly, but inevitably gets absorbed into this world of sucking up, manipulation and intrigue.

Through Mantel we see how, not just Cromwell, but all the other players around Henry at different times, had their own families, their own stories, their own reasons and agendas for being there. Her trilogy is all about Cromwell, but it could just have easily been about Stephen Gardiner, Henry Norris, Thomas Cranmer or Charles Brandon. The pages of history only tell us so much about these men, all influential power-brokers behind the throne. In the hands of someone like Mantel, any one of these men could become a much-loved character in the annals of literary fiction, instead of just a name in a history text.

Now, however, it’s time to catch our breath and read something completely different, before embarking on the final book in the trilogy, The Mirror and the Light, on the 1st May. See you then!

  • February – Wolf Hall (reread)
  • March – Bring Up the Bodies (reread)
  • May – The Mirror and the Light

If you would like me to add your reviews of WH, BUTB and TMATL to the list, please link your review in the comments. Current and historic posts welcome.

Readalong Posts:

Wolf Hall reviews:

  • My review.
  • Geoff @The Oddness of Moving ThingsMantel luxuriates in the English language. She plays with words and passages in such a beautiful way I found myself consciously re-reading passages or scenes to feel the language flow through me again because of how beautiful it was.” 


16 thoughts on “#WolfHallReadalong2021 Update

  1. I think there’s more to it than just Henry’s passions.
    Britain, in his era, was not the longstanding stable era of rule that we have today. Within living memory of his lifetime there had been violent, bloody clashes over who should reign, and the danger came not just from would-be kings with some claim to the throne in his own kingdom, but also from France and/or Spain, just waiting for an opportunity to take advantage of internal unrest to invade.
    Henry and his advisers were only too well aware that he needed to have a heir, and preferably more than one. As with marriages all over Europe, his were political ones, his choice always constrained by alliances. Above all else, he needed someone to breed an heir.
    Don’t forget, even in our lifetime Charles could not marry for love. He had to marry a certified virgin so that the crown could be sure that any child born had an unchallenged right to the throne.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s all very true Lisa.

      I was focused on giving my impressions on Mantel’s interpretation though. So all the heir and spare stuff is in there, along with the tenuous nature of the Tudor reign, but she really plays with how Henry’s whims and fancies decided the fates of so many around him. And it must have been for those around him to be at the mercy of such a capricious ruler.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m not very close to finishing Bring Up The Bodies–and I don’t even have the excuse of a road trip.

    Mirror and Light has shown up in bookstores and I have the McCullough biography in hand. I should try to organize my thoughts so far.


    1. If you’re like me at the moment, organising thoughts is a rather hit & miss process 😆

      I managed to finish Bring Up the Bodies a few days ago but it will take me a while to gather my thoughts as well. My mind is too busy with maps & things to see!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I am enjoying your analysis without being able to contribute. But I will get there. All I have to do is find copies of the first two to borrow, throw in some comparisons with Philippa Gregory (who is an actual historian) and then borrow or buy The M and the L. Easy!
    I agree with you about one thing, holidays are hard work.


    1. I used to read Philippa Gregory books, but haven’t done so in a very long time (I didn’t know she was an historian, but I think that Alison Weir could be, at least a history teacher, if not an historian).

      I preferred Jean Plaidy though, as she also had books about the French and Spanish royal families and the de Medici’s.


  4. I will try to join you for The Mirror and the Light in May. I started to read it a year ago just as we were going into lockdown and couldn’t concentrate, so it’s still waiting on my TBR!


    1. I hope you do join us Helen. It will be interesting having a couple of readers along who have had a big break between reading the first two books, to see if you can easily pick up the thread again. (I believe you can from what others have told me, but unless you’re immersed in the Tudor world, all the names can be hard to keep straight.)

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I just saw this a couple of days ago, and I am hoping to read The Mirror and the Light in May. I read Wolf Hall and Bring up the Bodies in January and March of 2020. This will be a good motivator for me to read it then and get some feedback from others as I am reading it.

    My husband and I are watching Wolf Hall now, have watched 3 of the 6 episodes. Even having read the books, it is confusing. All the people and relationships.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Would be delighted to have you along for the ride Tracy! If you’d like to add your links to your two reviews from last year, I will add them to the list, if you like.

      I’ve been saving the series for when I finally read all three books. Sounds like it might still be tough to follow, esp. for Mr Books who has not read them.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I have finished the book and just posted my review. I did prefer the first two but the story wouldn’t have been complete without the third one.


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