Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel

Sitting on my "to be read shelf" since November, Bring up the Bodies, is the sequel to Wolf Hall. I knew that when I read it, it was going to have to be a time without too many pressing "to dos" in my life. Finally, the time had come and I settled down with the novel and isolated myself from the world. Transported back to the time of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn and immersed in Tudor history, Bring Up the Bodies is as satisfying as Wolf Hall was. Mantel is a wonderful storyteller and manages to draw in the reader as an eyewitness to the events of the time. 

The novel begins in 1536 after Thomas More's execution as Henry's eyes are more often than not gazing at Jane Seymour more than this wife, Anne. The action is described and seen through the mind of his trusted adviser, Thomas Cromwell. The history of the time is well known and it is up to Mantel to craft her words to make it come alive for 21st century readers. And she does this spectacularly. History has painted Cromwell with a cruel brush, but this author shows another side. He is intelligent, articulate, crafty, and loyal to the king. His persecution of Anne and the matter in which he brings her to her final days is done fiercely and with determination and because it was the wish of the king. He presents the case against her with precision and catch her in a plot of adultery and treason. The lack of historical evidence as to what really was the case against Boleyn allows a bit of freedom in the novels final pages. And so the order goes to the tower to "bring up the bodies" for the trial.

The novel is a bit shorter than Wolf Hall, but it is still packed with eloquent description and vivid action. To clarify some of the confusion of telling Cromwell's story in the 3rd person, Mantel often uses "he, Cromwell" syntax. According to the BBC, the last of the trilogy will be entitled The Light and the Mirror and will close the book on Cromwell and his relationship with Henry. It would be expected that there will be his comments on Henry's marriage to Jane and the inevitable passing of her crown to Anne of Cleves before his ultimate demise.

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