TOB 2010: Wolf Hall vs. The Anthologist

In my ideal world, these books would not have met until later in the Tournament. They are, by a fairly comfortable margin, the two books that have most impressed me.

I am not finished with Wolf Hall yet, but, so far, it is an outstanding work of fiction. I am immersed in the political and personal intrigue in King Henry VIII’s court and admire Mantel’s beautiful writing. She does include a great deal of period detail, too much in the eyes of some. I have enjoyed it, though. This is a book in which the reader can luxuriate, enjoying the characters, the setting, and the power plays. Hilary Mantel has written a superb work that achieves its considerable ambition.

I have already reviewed The Anthologist which is also an excellent novel that achieves its own, more focused, but no less considerable, ambition. Its narrower scope and more limited appeal meant that its loss to Wolf Hall today was inevitable. I do not think that should have necessarily been the case. And I am happy that today’s judge said as much. While his subject is less grandiose, Baker set himself every bit as difficult and worthy a task. His success is worthy of praise and a Rooster. I am not saying it should have won the Rooster, only that The Anthologist is one of a handful of books, perhaps as many as four, that is worthy of winning the Rooster.

I agree with Meave Gallagher completely. She put forward a very thoughtful and considered opinion. Hers is the best analysis of the TOB so far. In a hypothetical tournament of judges, Gallagher is looking like the judge to beat.


9 Responses to TOB 2010: Wolf Hall vs. The Anthologist

  1. Today’s decision and commentary (with its own comments) makes following the TOB worthwhile. I agree that this is the best “judgement” yet offered and admire Maeve for her ability to do it in so few words (that’s the old editor in me). And John’s offer is not only generous, but great reading in terms of the responses he has generated (and often his recommendations). There are few lists of five submitted where I haven’t read at least one and heard of a couple of others — can’t say that his responses (again, most of which I have read or at least heard of) have often been wide of the mark. I’m quite interested in what he says to my list (I’m betting I’ve read it) since I took the directive seriously and listed the last 5 I read — which are all over the map and not really an indication of taste.

  2. Kerry says:

    I actually was thinking how many of the books were entirely unfamiliar to me. And I would not have bet against you, you were right, twice. Still, it was nice to see him dig and come up with something good.

    Nightwood – Djuna Barnes

    I will be looking forward to your review. A preface by Jeannette Winterson (one of my heroes)? Awesome.

    By the way, Kevin, my significant other went out of her way yesterday to tell me how awesome your comments are. I think your comments are the best part of this blog for her. I told her she should probably spend more time at your site, which always has interesting reviews and commentary. That your blog (along with The Asylum) were the blogs that made me want to join the online book conversation. So thanks, but the point I really wanted to make was that: you have fans.

  3. Kerry: I do love that John went searching and I am eagerly looking forward to Nightwood which is where John finally landed — impressively I would say, because I quite look forward to a book that I have never heard of which sure looks interesting.

    And if your significant other likes my comments, tell her to stay tuned for my review of The Privileges, which will be coming up in the next 10 days. It is a very well-done shortish novel about the people who live and prosper around those who make money — but spends most of its time on how that impacts the notion of familhy. Kind of Tom Wolfe, told from the perspective of the family. Threatening to be my book of the year so far.

  4. Kerry says:


    Awesome. I will tell her and I will be looking forward to the review as well. Your book of the year is always a book worth the TBR. I like your description so far too.

    I had never heard of Nightwood either, so that was quite a nice trick John pulled.

  5. I loved Wolf Hall too Kerry (you might like to check out my review when you’ve finished). It’s my first Mantel – I know, bad me – but it certainly whetted my appetite more. I particularly love the way she controls the POV – it is 3rd person but feels 1st person.

  6. Kerry says:

    It is my first Mantel too. And still working my way through. But I really enjoy it and your point about the point of view is an excellent one.

    As for your review, it is excellent and one of the primary reasons I decided to read Wolf Hall rather than form my opinion based solely on reviews. You made it sound too fine a book to let pass. The other reason was the review at ANZ LitLovers LitBlog.

    Thank you.

  7. Amy says:

    I’m loving Wolf Hall so far too. Too much period detail? Gosh, one of the things I’m loving is that there isn’t much at all–so often historical fiction devolves into a “look at all the research I did, I have to use it somehow” text with far too much detail, whereas Mantel seems to assume we’re smart enough to figure out plenty of this on our own, so she stays focused on the characters and the story. Hope it keeps going this way, I’m about half through.

  8. Kerry says:

    I agree with you. There is some period detail, but I found it all fairly minimal and in service of developing character. I am not finished, but close. If you like it so far, I think you will continue to like it up to where I have gotten, at least.

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