16th century is brought vividly to life
Power and the throne
By J. Rentilly
FOR MANY ARTISTS, creation is a matter of life
and death. This may be particularly true for author
Hilary Mantel, whose virtuoso Tudor-era epic Wolf
Hall (this month’s Costco Book Pick) recently earned
her a Man Booker Prize, one of the most prestigious
accolades awarded a literary work. Since her early
20s, the London-born Mantel has suffered a salvo of
serious, ongoing medical conditions and complications. Only last summer, she endured additional sur-geries, with more on the immediate horizon.
Mantel takes it all in stride; indeed, her awareness of time’s cruel schooling and the
fragility of good health fuels her work
in full, she says. “In some ways, writing may have saved my life,” she says.
“The passion for telling these stories—
especially Wolf Hall [and its sequel,
The Mirror and the Light, due in
2012]—pulls me on towards recovery.”
It is Mantel’s breathtaking passion,
combined with intelligence and sympathy, that has held Wolf Hall readers
spellbound, despite the fact that Tudor-era England is well-trod territory.
“In a sense, the story always comes
up fresh, because the fundamentals of
power-brokering don’t change. The
Tudors’ political process is still recognizable from
where we stand today. I think what rivets us is that
the stakes were so high. If you made a mistake back
then, you didn’t get to resign. You paid with your
life,” says Mantel. “Also, there was a lot of sex.”
Mantel’s masterful maneuver was stationing
front and center one Thomas Cromwell, a lesser-
known yet pivotal figure from the era. “Novelists
and dramatists have cast Cromwell as an evil shape
Signed book giveaway
COSTCO HAS SIGNED COPIES of Hilary
Mantel’s Wolf Hall with signed book plates
to give away. For a chance to win, send an
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firstname.lastname@example.org, with “Hilary
Mantel” in the subject line. Or print your
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Mantel, The Costco Connection, P.O. Box
34088, Seattle, WA 98124-1088.
WHEN IT COMES to historical fiction, the key to a
novel’s success is detail.
And this month’s book
buyer’s pick, Hilary Mantel’s
Wolf Hall, has it in spades.
While reading this book,
I felt as if Mantel had taken
me by the hand and led me
on an in-depth tour of
England in the 1520s. The
book begins with Henry VIII
so desperate for a male heir
that he’s ready to divorce his
wife and marry Ann Boleyn.
On the sidelines lurks
Thomas Cromwell. Part bully,
part charmer, Cromwell
helps dispel the king’s
opposition, but at what cost?
If I ever have the honor
of meeting Mantel, I would
like to ask where she got the
time machine. From the
physical descriptions to
conversations, every detail
feels as if she’d been there
taking notes. Whether you’re
a fan of historical fiction or
you just love solid stories,
this book is not to be missed.
Wolf Hall is available in
most warehouses and at
For more book picks, see
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Winners are responsible for all applicable federal, state and local taxes.
Odds of winning depend on the number of eligible entries received.
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lurking in the shadows,” says Mantel, who was
drawn to the challenge of “getting into Cromwell’s
head and behind his eyes.” There she found, surpris-
ingly, “a natural arbitrator, a broker of compro-
mises,” as well as “kindness, a shaft of dark, sardonic
humor and the occasional outbreak of real feeling.”
Mantel says these qualities “add up to a man.”
And so Mantel’s Cromwell navigates—and
often orchestrates—the terror, triumphs, conquests
and vivid dreams of the Tudor dynasty. The author,
who once worked as a social worker and film critic,
spent more than five years researching and writing the novel, laboring
diligently to “midwife to the reader
some very complex facts without
distorting them,” she says. “About
once a week, I decided writing this
novel was impossible. But the excitement of shaping the story kept carrying me along. Sometimes I felt the
book was towing me after it, like one
of those big dogs that takes its owner
for a walk.”
Barbara Kingsolver, best-selling
author of 13 books, including the
recent novel The Lacuna, believes
Mantel’s prose is “solid gold” and
that Wolf Hall is “one of the greatest books” she’s
ever read, noting that the author’s ability to fully
inhabit and give voice to her characters is palpable,
galvanizing and haunting. Kingsolver met Mantel
at a recent awards banquet where all invited writers
(Kingsolver and Mantel among them) offered readings from their recent tomes.
“Before the performance, during sound check,
when the [sound] engineer asked each of us to say a
line or two into our microphones, the rest of us
quoted a few lines of jabberwocky or said what we
had for breakfast,” Kingsolver says. “But when Hilary
Mantel spoke, out came Cromwell. It gave me chills.”
Today, frequently working from her bed,
Mantel finds herself “pulled along” by the second,
and final, chapter of Cromwell’s (mis)adventures in
King Henry VIII’s England, guided by voices and
curiosity and a fiery, insatiable appetite for understanding the oft misunderstood. It is a journey that
has taken her decades.
“It took me a long time to fathom where my
talents lay. I love knowing things, mastering data. I
didn’t see how that fit with the life of the imagination. Then I knew: historical fiction. It provides
every challenge I could wish for,” she says.
“And now, I just write what I’d like to read.”
On that point, with Wolf Hall, Mantel
is in good, and abundant, company. C
J. Rentilly is a Los Angeles–based
Pennie Clark Ianniciello
Costco Book Buyer
OCTOBER 2010 ;e Costco Connection 35