Bring Up the Bodies
By: Hilary Mantel
Format/Source: Paperback; my copy
By 1535 Thomas Cromwell, the blacksmith’s son, is far from his humble origins. Chief Minister to Henry VIII, his fortunes have risen with those of Anne Boleyn, Henry’s second wife, for whose sake Henry has broken with Rome and created his own church. But Henry’s actions have forced England into dangerous isolation, and Anne has failed to do what she promised: bear a son to secure the Tudor line. When Henry visits Wolf Hall, Cromwell watches as Henry falls in love with the silent, plain Jane Seymour. The minister sees what is at stake: not just the king’s pleasure, but the safety of the nation. As he eases a way through the sexual politics of the court, and its miasma of gossip, he must negotiate a truth that will satisfy Henry and secure his own career. But neither minister nor king will emerge undamaged from the bloody theatre of Anne’s final days.
After re-reading the first novel in her Thomas Cromwell trilogy, Wolf Hall (commentary), and learning that it had won the Man Booker for 2012, I had been itching to get my hands on this book. I recently did and yeah, it was difficult to put this book down once I had started =P
Bring Up the Bodies is a wonderful continuation of Thomas Cromwell’s story in the Tudor court. The events of this novel circle around the fall of the Boleyn family and the rise of the Seymour family. Again, Hilary Mantel does a wonderful job in showcasing the politics of Henry VIII’s court. Think Game of Thrones is gritty and dangerous in the way that politics plays out? Yeah, the Tudor court is deadly; families and figures can fall in and out of favour with Henry very easily, with some very sad and painful results. The fall of the Boleyn family is obviously shown from Cromwell’s point of view so the events and judicial processes may seem sped up in the novel (I’m not familiar with the event-by-event chronicling their eventual drop from the Tudor court). Simultaneously, as a result of the focus on the Tudor court and the Boleyn & Seymour families, there’s less emphasis on the international & church politics that was prominent in the first novel but nonetheless remain present in the background as events progress.
It seems subtle the way that Thomas Cromwell maneuvers his way between the families and principle figures of Henry’s court, and in a way it continues to be a defining feature of the way Cromwell is characterised in this series: he’s good at what he does but he continues to be a rather elusive character to the reader, save for this moments when you gain a clear glimpse of his thoughts and feelings, what he has lost and his humanity.
Th prose continues to be a unique element in the story and is still as poetic and introspective as Wolf Hall. However this time around I did notice that the prose had a tendency here and there to break the “fourth wall” so to speak and appeal directly to the reader, which was a little strange to read (I don’t remember it happening in the first novel).
Overall Bring Up the Bodies is a great follow-up to Wolf Hall. Between the two, I still prefer the first novel (as interesting as this volume was, there were one or two moments that dragged a bit) but this book builds up on the characters and the situations that they find themselves in. I’m greatly looking forward to the final novel in the trilogy but dreading it at the same time given what happens to Thomas Cromwell in history.