Now I have to get my hands on Wolf Hall. Hilary Mantel weaves spells with her novels about Thomas Cromwell and the bombastic, bloody reign of Henry VIII. Bring Up the Bodies ensnares you–and it is unusual, dense with names and tricky to follow unless you are paying close attention. I thought it was absolutely great.
Bring Up the Bodies follows on from Wolf Hall, chronicling the months and weeks leading up to the beheading of Anne Boleyn in the Tower of London. Cromwell is wiley, strategically brilliant, flexible of principle and self-protective in this account. He is also dedicated to the king, vulnerable to reflections on the losses in his life and his harsh childhood, witty, and smooth in his dealings with the treacherous operators in and around the court. Mantel’s Cromwell is at once a despicable and likeable character and tremendously sympathetic. Anne Boleyn doesn’t come off quite so well but there are no complete villains in this book, and certainly no saints.
The matter of a suitable heir to the kingdom looms large but not so large that the king’s disaffection, his roving eye, and the headstrong and imperious personality of the queen are as much to credit for the rush to the Tower and the executioner’s sword. Many people lose their heads on the block when Henry loses his in pursuit of Jane Seymour. Jane doesn’t seem entirely competitive with the colorful Boleyn but she is surprisingly astute. So is Cromwell as he goes about changing history–again–in the name of honor and love. Or maybe just lust.
It’s very intelligent–reads like a contemporary reign or campaign, actually, with really sharp people in many of the lead roles. The point of view is interesting–I think an intense third person subjective with Cromwell’s thoughts and dialog reported and himself referred to as “he” frequently with no attribution. That POV required some work on my part, due to the wealth of characters, locations and events, but the effort was a pleasure. You are in capable hands in this book–Mantel is a master and Cromwell is a surprisingly worthy subject for her meticulous attentions. I’m looking forward to the Booker Prize-winning Wolf Hall, the prequel to Bringing Up the Bodies, to track how Cromwell helped Henry to dispose of Katherine of Aragon to pave the way for wife #2 and Henry’s historic role as a royal serial killer.
Bring Up the Bodies Hilary Mantel | Henry Holt and Company 2012