The Great Matter Monologues by Thomas Crockett

So many novels have been written dealing with ‘the King’s Great Matter’ – Henry VIII’s struggle to divorce Katherine of Aragon and marry Anne Boleyn – that it must be getting very difficult for authors to find new and interesting ways to approach the subject. Thomas Crockett’s solution is to tell the story in the form of alternating monologues written from the perspectives of Henry, Katherine and Anne in an attempt to create a theatrical feel, as if the three main players were standing on a stage sharing their thoughts directly with the audience.

If you’ve read about this period before, there’s nothing very new here; for the most part, the plot follows the known historical facts, except where it’s necessary for the author to make personal choices on how to interpret certain points – for example, the question of whether Katherine’s earlier marriage to Henry’s brother, Prince Arthur, had been consummated (this was the basis for Henry’s claim that his own marriage to Katherine should be declared invalid). The appeal of the book, for me, was not so much what it was about but the way in which it was written, taking us into the minds of Katherine and Anne – and also Henry, as most of the other Tudor novels I’ve read have focused on the women and not really given Henry a chance to tell his side of the story.

Despite them sharing their private thoughts and emotions with us, I didn’t find any of the three narrators at all likeable. It’s certainly easiest to have sympathy for Katherine as she was treated so badly by Henry, blamed for their failure to produce a son and cast off to live the rest of her life under increasingly poor and unhealthy conditions as she is put under pressure to agree to the divorce. However, as she spends most of this period in the confines of the damp, cold castles to which she has been banished, not much actually happens to Katherine over the course of the novel and I felt that her monologues became very repetitive.

Anne Boleyn’s voice and story are stronger and more engaging as she talks about her struggle to be accepted as Henry’s queen and her own failure to give birth to a male heir, before falling out of favour in her turn. She is very much the villain of the book, though, which is often the case in Tudor novels and I would have preferred something more nuanced rather than yet another portrayal of Anne as ruthless, spiteful and consumed by hatred for Katherine and her daughter, Mary. As for Henry, it’s difficult to have much sympathy for him, knowing how he treated his wives, but I did feel his frustration over how long the Great Matter was taking to be resolved and his worries for the future of the kingdom should he die before the succession was secured.

The novel goes into a huge amount of detail regarding every aspect of the Great Matter and although the short, rapidly switching monologues made it tempting to keep saying ‘just one more chapter’, I didn’t find it a particularly quick or easy read. As part of the stream-of-consciousness style of writing, there’s an absence of punctuation to indicate when someone is speaking and that made it difficult to follow the dialogue at times. Still, overall I enjoyed reading this book and appreciate Thomas Crockett’s attempt to do something a little bit different. Although I’m not really a fan of audiobooks, I do think this particular novel would work well in audio format, with different narrators expressing the unique voices and personalities of the three characters.

In case it has escaped anyone’s notice, Hilary Mantel’s The Mirror and the Light will be published later this week, and I know some readers have been re-reading Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies in preparation. I decided not to do that, but The Great Matter Monologues, in which Thomas Cromwell plays an important part, covers the same period of history, so this was the perfect time to read this book!

Thanks to John Hunt Publishing for providing a copy of this book for review via NetGalley.

6 thoughts on “The Great Matter Monologues by Thomas Crockett

  1. setinthepast says:

    So many books have been written about this that it must be very hard to find a new take on it! Still trying to decide whether or not to read The Mirror and the Light: I wasn’t that impressed with the first two books, but I seem to be in a minority there 🙂 .

    • Helen says:

      It took me a while to get into Wolf Hall but I ended up enjoying it and then loved Bring Up the Bodies. I’ll definitely be reading The Mirror and the Light, but I have to admit, I started to feel less enthusiastic about it when I realised it’s over 900 pages long!

  2. Pam Thomas says:

    I’m currently listening to an audiobook of ‘Bring up the Bodies’ in the car (I’ve already done Wolf Hall, and also read both of them when they originally came out). Listening does give a different dimension, and I’ve been really struck this time round by the quality of Mantel’s writing and the vivid and extraordinary way she brings the past to life. I won’t be reading The Great Matter Monologues’ because (a) the subject has been done to death and (b) frankly I don’t think anyone could ever do it as well as Mantel. Still, good to know I won’t be missing much!

    • Helen says:

      This isn’t a bad book but has nothing new to offer for those of us who’ve read it all before, so I don’t think you’re missing anything. I’m glad to hear you would recommend listening to the Mantel books. I find it hard to concentrate on audiobooks, even in the car, but maybe I just haven’t tried the right ones yet.

  3. whatmeread says:

    Gosh, this doesn’t sound very interesting at all. Subject matter, maybe, but approach? I went to a play once that was just monologues and ended up walking out.

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