I started reading Wolf Hall, a week or so ago, and I am both admiring the audacity of the book and loving the writing. A confession is due here, when I started reading the book, I thought it was a book about Oliver Cromwell and I couldn’t figure out why the dates didn’t line-up. The book is about Thomas Cromwell, one of England’s, agreed upon, bad guys – I am told every English schoolchild knows that, like we know John Wilkes Booth is a bad guy – and is most remembered as the foil to the good guy, the Man of All Seasons, Thomas More.
First off, it is a book complimentary – at least so far – of Thomas Cromwell. But history is written by the victors, and Cromwell was not, eventually, one of them, so who know if he was really a bad guy? Either way, the entire book is written from Cromwell’s point of view and it can be confusing. In a sentence like, The king walked into the room. He says Good Morning, it is Cromwell saying Good Morning. Often, I have to circle back to understand what was said, by whom.
The lyrical, almost poetic – no! really poetic – writing, however, is the book’s biggest joy. Sometimes it just stops me in my tracks, like when, at Christmas, Cromwell is thinking about the last year: No year has brought such devastation. His sister Kat, her husband, Morgan Williams, have been plucked from this life as fast as his daughters were taken, one day walking and talking and the next day cold as stones, tumbled into their Thames-side graves, dug in beyond reach of the tide, beyond sight and smell of the river; deaf now to the sound of Putney’s cracked church bell, to the smell of wet ink, of hops, of malted barley, and the scent, still animal, of woolen bales; dead to the autumn aroma of pine resin and apple candles, of soul cakes baking.
Often I don’t finish a book like this, my ADD and dyslexia kick in and I just get bogged down. I have tried Gravity’s Rainbow a half dozen times and Infinite Jest about as much. I marvel at the language of the first twenty five pages and then the rowing gets too tough. I end up saying I will read it tomorrow, for two weeks, while I read New Yorker Book Reviews and an Economist article on riots in the Ukraine. But Wolf Hall is pulling me along with its story. I am concerned for Thomas and still thrilled at how well he is doing.