Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Commuter book review: Wolf Hall

Just when you think the dead Tudor horse can be beaten no more, a fresh take breathes new life into its plague-ridden, headless tale. Wolf Hall, rightly named one of 2009 s best books.

Here court advisor Thomas Cromwell takes center stage, a man so artfully conniving he makes the guest politicos on Morning Joe look like rank amateurs. Trained by Medicis, educated by dock workers, this is no man who would be caught be-diapered with 90 grand in the freezer. He survives beatings, plagues, curses, treachery...(for a few hundred pages at least)

This is the gritty, non-airbrushed version of history - warts, chamberpots, boils, flagellation straps and all. The bit players come to life and give some context to all that palace intrigue.

There are feasts, festivals, friendships, plucky orphans, rival apprentices, fox hunts, clever schemes, poisonings, noble quests, ignoble pursuits.

And, surprisingly, it s laugh-out-loud funny in many parts.

No schoolchild would find history boring when told in such a fashion. But no child really should be exposed to it. Harry Potter Wolf Hall is not.

Corrupt cardinals? There is no other kind in this book. Tortured Lutherans? Garrison Keilor would fall over in shock. Gossip of graphic incestuous sodomy?

So that s how the Boleyns are managing these days, our protagonist blithely responds.

You do realize Thomas Cromwell was an asshole, my Irish-Catholic reading companion reminds me.

Yes, but an entertaining and very human one in this telling.

Two thumbs and a freaky Anne Boleyn sixth finger up for Wolf Hall.