This should have been the book that caught me up on all my book posts as I spent pretty much the entire month of May reading it... but alas, it is now July and you see that didn't quite happen. My guess is that it was such a big book that I could not even think about getting around to tackle this post about it (even if 80% of is already written thanks to my Goodreads "next day" review).
But it all only makes sense as I admit I avoided Hillary Mantel's Wolf Hall for a long time. It was only with the recent release of the 2nd book in the proposed trilogy, the quite niftily-named Bring Up The Bodies, that I decided to go back and give it a try. With no shame, I was intimidated by it. It's not that I am opposed to or not a fan of of historical fiction, but this just seemed too high a mountain to climb with only a cursory knowledge of the likes of King Henry VIII, Anne Boleyn, and Jane Seymour (yes, I knew it was not Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman!).
Initially, I was surprised/impressed with how quickly I picked up on things, but alas my fears soon resurfaced and I found myself regularly flipping back to those complex family trees and a 10-page "cast of characters" listing at the front of the book to help (re-)figure out them multiple Thomases and Henrys and Annes... try to keep straight who was related to who... as well as their title and/or multiple nicknames... and when that didn't work making multiple (and helpful) trips to Wikipedia.
Again, I feel no shame in admitting that I became lost in this book time and time again... and that's now lost in the "totally submerged with the world of 14th century England" (tho, that did occur)... but lost in the sense of "I don't know what the hell is going on and am just reading words at this point." This dense book requires a combination of concentration, diligence, an attention span, and, to be honest, more than a passing knowledge of this era in British history. But I just kept on plugging along and sometimes things would clear up, sometimes not (oh well!... but typically, I would get back to a plot line/thread or character(s) I had a better grasp (i.e. Henry's trick marital transition) and I would get back into the reading rhythm.
There is not a doubt in my mind that this book is a 5-star achievement. I don't know how Mantel pulled it all together. And while my above described experience, makes this all sound like drudgery, it was far from that. When I was in it (70% of the time?), it was phenomenal. While I can't fault Mantel for my own shortcomings when it comes to British history, my personal reading experience with it was that it was too much of a challenge, too often... and to the point of not enjoying/really struggling with it. So, for that along, I knock off a star (and much to Mantel's credit she makes me feel as if that's my fault, not her's, Mantel's - inside joke).
I am still looking forward to the next book, Bring Up The Bodies. My understanding is that it is smaller in scope (years vs. decades) and is focused on one of the areas I did very much enjoy in this book, the relationship with Anne and the line of succession.