Michaeline: Wolf Hall and the Journey with a Well-Known End

Thomas Cromwell sitting at a table covered with a beautiful green fabric. A book is by his side, with writing quill, letters, and broken seals.
Thomas Cromwell, the main character of Wolf Hall, was a practical commoner with a genius for languages and people. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

It’s interesting to think about how stories grab our attention and propel us along through the pages until the end.

When I was a kid, I read mostly fantasy and fairy tales. The point was to find out what happened – although, I often cheated and checked out the last pages of the book to make sure it was a happy, satisfying ending. Even as a very young reader, I wanted a HEA, and I disliked cliffhangers – after all, I was in a small town 90 miles away from a Waldenbooks, so if there was a sequel, I needed to know I could get it soon.

But the romance genre isn’t really about the ending; it’s about the journey. Most romance writers make sure the reader knows who the main couple is, and it’s not in the romance genre unless the writer establishes a relationship that looks like it is going to last.

OK, digression, some romance writers like to play with the genre. I’m thinking of Georgette Heyer’s Cotillion. If you haven’t read it, it’s a masterclass in playfulness. SPOILER: there is a HEA, but it’s not with the delightful, handsome rogue.

I’m reading Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel this week. It’s about Thomas Cromwell in the time of Henry the VIII and Anne Boleyn. It won the 2009 Man Booker Prize, and the language is a bit dense (though very smooth and easy to read). The plot is not a thrill a minute, and the writer stays far away from the romance between Henry and Anne . . . because we all know it’s going to turn out with Anne getting her head chopped off.

So why read it?

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