I have just finished reading 'Wolf Hall' by Hilary Mantle, which won the Booker this year. I don't habitually read the Booker winner, only if it is a book that appeals to me. Some of them I have loved eg Life of Pi, and some I have thought very undeserving eg Sacred Hunger by Barry Unsworth.
I would have read 'wolf Hall' anyway, because the subject interests me. Kate is a bit obsessed with Tudor history, and although less obsessed than she is, I like historical novels. Thomas Cromwell as a subject is an unusual choice because normally he is a black crow in the background The man who pushed through the marriage of Anne Boleyn, organised the dissolution of the monastries, and eventually came to grief when he chose the wrong 4th wife for Henry VIII. Hilary Mantle has done two things which are interesting. One is to look at Cromwell as a man, as a person, someone who came from somewhere, had family, friends, motivations, not just a cardboard baddy. The other thing is the way she has written the book. At first the style is a bit offputting because in places it is almost stream of consciousness, which is very unusual in a historical novel. There is no dominant authorial voice filling in the history for you, if you want extra background Mantle is leaving you to go and look it up yourself.
It takes the story through the successful beginnings of Cromwell's story, until the execution of Thomas More, so there is another book to come which will take us through the dissolution of the monastries and then to his fall and execution.
She has succeeded completely in making Cromwell a real, interesting person. It will be intriguing to see how she manages to deal with the dissolution of the monastries. She has set him up as a man who is a believer in the Reformation, that the teachings of Luther and Tyndale are the ones that should be followed, so the destruction of the monastries has been well set up as she has already got him hating the corruption of the clergy etc. I will definitely be reading the next one when it comes out.
There were interesting things in some critical comments over the fact that there were so many historical novels in the short list this year. The very sniffy remarks about genre fiction as though the fact that it was a historical novel made it inherently less worthwhile. You would have thought that by now people would have got past this and realise that there are excellent books written in all genres and dreadful books as well, plus dreadful books written as 'mainstream' fiction. You need to take the book on its own merits surely, and not say that because it is either crime or historical or SF it must be bad. It may be bad, it may be good but being part of that genre doesn't make it either.