It is easy to be intimidated by “Wolf Hall“, a chunk of very historical fiction that is more than 500 pages long. Hilary Mantel won the Man Booker Prize in 2009 for this story of the machinations of the Tudor court in 16th century England, and I have been meaning to read it ever since. Like many equally worthy books I am “meaning to read”, this one took up physical space on my shelf and occupied a slightly guilty part of my consciousness while I consumed memoirs, domestic literature, young adult apocolyptic science fiction, and short books featuring Grumpy Cat.
I have used the audio technique before when I find myself reluctant to begin a read. Sometimes it is because of the sheer length of the book, (Justin Cronin’s “Passage“, Stephen King’s “Dome“), and sometimes because I am not fluent in a language that features prominently in a book and am not sure of my pronounciation . “Kite Runner” by Khaled Hosseini, and ” The Sandcastle Girls” by Chris Bohjalian were two that were extremely helpful for me to experience as audio. I am not great at geography and might never have made the connection between the Aleppo of the book and the city currently so much in the news if I had pronounced it only “in my head”.
Much depends on the reader, of course, and the success of listening also depends somewhat on format (“Passage” has a lot of email conversations, very stilted when email addresses are read aloud over and over).
“Wolf Hall” on audio lends itself beautifully to this format, the language is direct and concise and the Simon Slater’s emphasis in the reading is gorgeously understated. For a reader with a basic understanding of English history, the novel brings surprises in the form of Cromwell’s humanity and everyday familial triumphs; he has mostly been portrayed as the “bad guy” of history, in comparison with Thomas More. For a reader like me, woefully ignorant of the Monarchs of England and never having learned the nursery rhymes that remind us of the royal successions, the book is also somewhat of a thriller!
Beheaded! Divorced! High drama indeed, and told in a masterful voice. I am in the middle of the sequel, “Bring Up The Dead”. Don’t me how it ends.