Excerpt from Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Wolf Hall

A Novel

By Hilary Mantel

Wolf Hall
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  • Hardcover: Oct 2009,
    560 pages.
    Paperback: Sep 2010,
    592 pages.

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When the basin comes, she stands over him and works away, dabbing at his closed eye, working in small circles round and round at his hairline. Her breathing is ragged and her free hand rests on his shoulder. She swears under her breath, and sometimes she cries, and rubs the back of his neck, whispering, "There, hush, there," as if it were he who were crying, though he isn’t. He feels as if he is floating, and she is weighting him to earth; he would like to put his arms around her and his face in her apron, and rest there listening to her heartbeat. But he doesn’t want to mess her up, get blood all down the front of her.

When Morgan Williams comes in, he is wearing his good town coat. He looks Welsh and pugnacious; it’s clear he’s heard the news. He stands by Kat, staring down, temporarily out of words; till he says, "See!" He makes a fist, and jerks it three times in the air. "That!" he says. "That’s what he’d get. Walter. That’s what he’d get. From me."

"Just stand back," Kat advises. "You don’t want bits of Thomas on your London jacket."

No more does he. He backs off. "I wouldn’t care, but look at you, boy. You could cripple the brute in a fair fight."

"It never is a fair fight," Kat says. "He comes up behind you, right, Thomas? With something in his hand."

"Looks like a glass bottle, in this case," Morgan Williams says. "Was it a bottle?"

He shakes his head. His nose bleeds again.

"Don’t do that, brother," Kat says. It’s all over her hand; she wipes the blood clots down herself. What a mess, on her apron; he might as well have put his head there after all.

"I don’t suppose you saw?" Morgan says. "What he was wielding, exactly?"

"That’s the value," says Kat, "of an approach from behind— you sorry loss to the magistrates’ bench. Listen, Morgan, shall I tell you about my father? He’ll pick up whatever’s to hand. Which is sometimes a bottle, true. I’ve seen him do it to my mother. Even our little Bet, I’ve seen him hit her over the head. Also I’ve not seen him do it, which was worse, and that was because it was me about to be felled."

"I wonder what I’ve married into," Morgan Williams says.

But really, this is just something Morgan says; some men have a habitual sniffle, some women have a headache, and Morgan has this wonder. The boy doesn’t listen to him; he thinks, if my father did that to my mother, so long dead, then maybe he killed her? No, surely he’d have been taken up for it; Putney’s lawless, but you don’t get away with murder. Kat’s what he’s got for a mother: crying for him, rubbing the back of his neck.

He shuts his eyes, to make the left eye equal with the right; he tries to open both. "Kat," he says, "I have got an eye under there, have I? Because it can’t see anything." Yes, yes, yes, she says, while Morgan Williams continues his interrogation of the facts; settles on a hard, moderately heavy, sharp object, but possibly not a broken bottle, otherwise Thomas would have seen its jagged edge, prior to Walter splitting his eyebrow open and aiming to blind him. He hears Morgan forming up this theory and would like to speak about the boot, the knot, the knot in the twine, but the effort of moving his mouth seems disproportionate to the reward. By and large he agrees with Morgan’s conclusion; he tries to shrug, but it hurts so much, and he feels so crushed and disjointed, that he wonders if his neck is broken.

"Anyway," Kat says, "what were you doing, Tom, to set him off? He usually won’t start up till after dark, if it’s for no cause at all."

"Yes," Morgan Williams says, "was there a cause?"

"Yesterday. I was fighting."

"You were fighting yesterday? Who in the holy name were you fighting?"

"I don’t know." The name, along with the reason, has dropped out of his head; but it feels as if, in exiting, it has removed a jagged splinter of bone from his skull. He touches his scalp, carefully. Bottle? Possible.

Excerpted from Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel. Copyright © 2009 by Hilary Mantel. Excerpted by permission of Henry Holt and Company. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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