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I too might have dismissed this tome on Thomas Cromwell, adviser and master manipulator in Henry VIII’s court, were it not for Wolf Hall’s selection as the Wall Street Journal’s debut book club choice. After all, someone said, “who needs another book on Henry VIII?” Okay, so I could watch endless reruns of the BBC series with Jonathan Rhys Meyers as Henry. That aside, I signed up for the book club, read the book, and now look forward to the upcoming live online discussion with the author Hilary Mantel.
Elizabeth Gilbert, the author who chose the selection, explained that Mantel had chosen a new perspective on the story, taking the viewpoint of Cromwell, one of the lesser known or at least less-exploited personalities of the court.
I found that Mantel brought the court to life more than any other book I have read, the pageantry and pettiness are as vivid as any cinematic rendering. I cannot fathom the research that Mantel had to undertake or better yet, live, to recount and invent flawless characters and scenes. She won the Man Booker Prize in 2009 for this novel and then, a first for a woman, won a second Booker Prize in 2012 for Bringing Up the Bodies, the second in her planned trilogy on Cromwell. There’s now even an upcoming mini-series on Cromwell based on Mantel’s book. By the time it airs, I will likely join the chorus, what more do we need to know about Henry VIII-especially without Rhys Myers.
A few of my favorite passages can only hint at the depth of Mantel’s writing, one describes how showing your cards too early can be the undoing of plans that have taken a lifetime to develop:

It is wise to conceal the past even if there is nothing to conceal. A man’s power is in the half-light, in the half-seen movements of his hand and the unguessed-at expression of his face. It is the absence of facts that frighten people” the gap you open, in to which they pour their fears, fantasies, and desire.

And a second, paints a vivid portrait of Henry … even if I should site one on Cromwell:

The king comes in. It is a warm day and he wears pale silks. Rubies cluster on his knuckles like bubbles of blood.

I hope you find time to discover Hilary Mantel and Thomas Cromwell on your own.