Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
England in the 1520s is a heartbeat from disaster. If the king dies without a male heir, the country could be destroyed by civil war. Henry VIII wants to annul his marriage of twenty years, and marry Anne Boleyn.
The pope and most of Europe oppose him. The quest for the petulant king’s freedom destroys his advisor, the brilliant Cardinal Wolsey, and leaves a power vacuum and a deadlock.
Into this impasse steps Thomas Cromwell. Son of a brutal blacksmith, a political genius, a briber, a bully and a charmer, Cromwell has broken all the rules of a rigid society in his rise to power, and is prepared to break some more. Rising from the ashes of personal disaster - the loss of his young family and of Wolsley, his beloved patron - he picks his way deftly through a court where ‘man is wolf to man’. Pitting himself against parliament, the political establishment and the papacy, he is prepared to reshape England to his own and Henry’s desires.
From one of our finest living writers, Wolf Hall is that very rare thing: a truly great English novel, one that explores the intersection of individual psychology and wider politics. With a vast array of characters, and richly overflowing with incident, it peels back history to show us Tudor England as a half-made society, moulding itself with great passion and suffering and courage.
Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel was chosen as the best winner from the noughties by broadcaster and novelist Simon Mayo. Mantel is the only woman to have won the Man Booker Prize twice and Wolf Hall has since been adapted for TV and stage. Mayo said that ‘in its questioning of what England is and how it can disengage from Rome … [Wolf Hall is a] book as anguished as any essay about Brexit you’ll read in the papers.’ Mantel is taking part in several events at the Man Booker 50 Festival, including the opening event, ‘Rewriting the Past’, with Pat Barker at 7.30pm on Friday 6 July and a sold out BBC World Book Club.