Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall is the rarest of novels. It’s just damn good. Unlike many historical novels it eschews thee’s, thou’s, and all that nonsense and opts instead for a lean, cutting dialogue that translates the immediacy of the emotion narrated. I’ll not lie; I like historical fiction. If you want to look down your nose at me, I don’t care. Wolf Hall, though, is a bit more than your typical historical fair. I read Ken Follett for his story, not his language. He is not a bad writer, but he is certainly not one to turn a phrase. Mantel is, in fact, a supremely gifted writer as well as a compelling storyteller. Not once in the 600+ pages does Wolf Hall lag. Her prose is robust, readable, and interesting. Her characters are compelling and believable. And, perhaps more impressively, she never winks at you. I loathe self-indulgent fiction. In a literary season where childish games masquerading as grown-up fiction are in and out-and-out children’s books dominate the market, Wolf Hall is a relief. It is an adult novel that entertains with out insulting. I mean, good grief, it reduced a friend and I to giddy texting about how good it was. Wolf Hall is historical fiction at its highest. Cataclysimic events are distilled to dinner tables, bedrooms, and personal relationships. The English Reformation is reduced from a metanarrative to a series of human choices. The promise of historical fiction is not that it relates the true past, but that it reminds us of the truth that history is just the record of real human beings, more like us than not. Human beings subject to many of the same emotions as we are, and- as human beings are wont to do- make decisions based off those emotions. So what if her portrayal of Cranmer and Cromwell is fictive, and her picture of More intentionally deconstructive, she reminds us that before these three men were reduced to surnames they were all simply ‘Thomas.’ She gives Henricus Rex VIII the space to simply be ‘Henry.’ History with a capital ‘H’ becomes the personal narrative of men and women caught in difficult situations, frequently of their own making. The primary problem with most historical fiction is that character becomes an accessory to event, Wolf Hall explores how people cause events that shape History and become legends who become characters. In the end, Mantel’s humanism is what connects her to her subject. Like her protagonist Cromwell, she struggles to push human beings to the fore.
PS, I realize I am late on the bandwagon, but all that means is I have less time to wait for the sequel…coming in May.
 I read David Foster Wallace, I read George Steiner, I read Joyce, I read Chaucer, I read Fitzgerald, I read what a damn well please, I did a masters in medieval literature at Oxford and if I found Pillars of the Earth enjoyable and you were too stuck up to like it, well, I don’t apologize for that.
 And good God, what a year we had for it- Freedom, A Visit from the Goon Squad, The Marriage Plot, ick.
 Note, this friend is a Rhodes Scholar working on her second masters in literature, one was in Early Modern Literature, i.e. the period Mantel covers, i.e. a sharp cookie and not one to fall for silly books.