This book won the 2009 Man Booker Prize and when I saw it in paperback in our local bookstore that carries English books, I was intrigued. It was nice and thick (652 pages) and caught my interest because it was a historical novel about Thomas Cromwell, who was the most powerful of Henry the 8th's courtiers. I recently read a historical novel about Katherine of Aragon, Henry's first wife, so I decided that I would read this one as well - one of these days I am going to have those historical figures straight in my head!
The novel follows Thomas Cromwell from the time he is a boy, skims over his career abroad as a mercenary, and picks up when he returns to England as the right hand man of the Archbishop of York. The book is extremely well written and gives great insight into the intrigues, politics and brutal ugliness of life at court. But it also shows the main characters as human beings, people we could imagine in our society today. Anne Bolyen, in particular, and especially Henry the 8th himself stand out. But Thomas Cromwell is our hero, and however brutal he must be to defend his King's interests, he also is the beloved patriarch of his family, a loving husband and father, taking in young men as his apprentices and raising then as members of his extended family, making sure the young girls in his care marry well, and creating a very successful law practice and a warm home base.
This is a book to read slowly and savor. It does not always read easily, some passages are dense or cryptical, but it is worth it to experience the unfolding of the story.