Thomas Cromwell is now a little over forty years old. He is a man of strong build, not tall. Various expressions are available to his face, and one is readable: an expression of stifled amusement…
It is said he knows by heart the entire New Testament in Latin, and so as a servant if the cardinal is apt–ready with a text if abbots flounder. His speech is low and rapid, his manner assured; he is at home in a courtroom or waterfront, bishop’s palace or inn yard…
He works all hours, first up and last to bed. He makes money and he spends it. He will take a bet on anything.
That is Thomas Cromwell, onetime Lord Chancellor to Henry VIII, reconsidered by novelist Hilary Mantel.
Most of us know Cromwell as the great villain to the great saint Thomas More in A Man for All Seasons. Mantel gives us a different picture: Cromwell as the moderate man of reason, with More playing the sanctimonious and selfish ideologue.
I bought the novel, Wolf Hall, after reading this glowing review in the New Yorker. It’s marvelous. If you’re the sort who thinks historical fiction is mostly tripe, you’ll be mostly right in general, but mostly surprised with this book. It won the Man Booker prize this year.
If you’re the sort who loved Pillars of the Earth, it’s much like that, but less hackneyed and just as enjoyable.