Bring Up the Bodies

Anne Boleyn....what a cow.
Anne Boleyn

Do you ever love a book or admire an author’s writing so much that they become almost impossible to write a review about? Well, I do and to hammer home this difficulty, Hilary Mantel’s second installment in her Cromwell saga; Bring Up the Bodies, has had such a huge amount of press, reviews (mainly positive) and prize after prize that now the hoohah has died down I’m almost loath to add my inconsequential opinion to all the noise. So I’ll keep this short. I promise.

Mantel started off with a superb chunk of storytelling prowess with 2009’s Wolf Hall, giving her a lot to live up to. We now, of course, know that she delivered 500 times over with Bring Up the Bodies, yet reading this literary mammoth pre prize-giving made me ever so slightly nervous it wouldn’t live up to the hype.

Fourth Estate : LF Paperback : 2012 : 407 pages : Picked up by Daddy Relish at the airport. How lovely
Fourth Estate : LF Paperback : 2012 : 407 pages : Picked up by Daddy Relish at the airport. How lovely

Having studied the Tudor dynasty at least twice throughout my school-life and being a die-hard sucker for a bit of David Starkey, it strikes me that up until now, Henry VIII’s chief minister Thomas Cromwell often misses the list of the great and good in British history for us lay folk  He isn’t glamorous, his importance almost entirely lies in a dry, political landscape and he certainly isn’t very pretty, yet Hilary Mantel manages to bring a sagging, grumpy, old (by Tudor standards) lawyer to life. With the greatest panache she lays bare his ruthless nature and makes us, somehow, adore him.

Lucky enough to catch a day in London a few months ago (for work first and foremost mind you!) I snuck an hour out of the day to go and take a look at the Tudor paintings at the National Portrait Gallery. Geeky as it is, I have to admit to being a little starstruck, standing in awe of portraits of people who, after studying them so often throughout my student days and now being whisked deep into their lives in Mantel’s superb novels, really felt like meeting old friends. With a sense of urgency that makes her storytelling so utterly gripping, Mantel takes a leaf out of Hans Holbein’s paintings and sketches out her images in pure technicolor:

‘Sometime before noon, clouds scudded in from the west and rain fell in big scented drops; but the sun re-emerged with a scorching heat, and now the sky is so clear you can see into Heaven and spy on what the saints are doing.’

p.4

Details some may find inconsequential such as Cromwell’s comments on what glaziers a family uses for their windows or his home life in general drag me deeper into the world she has imagined in such a convincing a way that one cannot fail to be impressed by her profound knowledge. She’s certainly earned the respect of the scholars…

Do I want to get into the debate over what is now the infamous Mantel vs Kate Middleton debate? Not really. However, what I will say is that I have listened to her speech, which offers a penetrating and frank view into the forcibly imposed roll of the modern royal woman and yes, may seem a little too frank and penetrating with regards to Kate but is, by and large, a criticism of society’s attitude towards women and mainly, when it boils down to it, an academic lecture on the TUDORS. Shame on you tabloids.

Mantel’s telling of Cromwell’s rise and fall was originally attended as a wonderful duet. Due to the sheer mammoth subject and wealth of things to tell it will now be a happy trilogy… I can’t flippin’ wait.

The Mirror and the Light; the tale of Cromwell’s final demise, is expected to hit the shelves sometime in 2015.

10 thoughts on “Bring Up the Bodies

  1. You know, I’ve picked this up SO many times in Waterstones and put it back down every single time?

    I love the Tudors – I’ve studied them several times throughout school, like you, and I possess a huge amount of Elizabeth I non-fiction. I’m less up-to-speed with Cromwell etc, but I still find it interesting. I think that’s the problem though – it seems like a lot of effort to read, and I don’t want it to LESSEN my interest, if that makes any sense? Like, if it ends up being horrendously boring and then I never want to read about the Tudors again?

    I’m fully aware how much I’m over-thinking this, by the way!

    Great review though. Maybe I’ll have a look at it AGAIN.

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    1. Although I’m sure you’ve got the idea from all the other rave reviews out there – you must must must must pick this up! 🙂 ESPECIALLY if you like the Tudors. All it will make you want to do is saturate yourself with more history books and programmes. As a novel there obviously has to be a large degree of artistic license BUT Mantel definitely knows her onions. I just can’t wait for the third installment!

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  2. I was so eager to read this that I bought it in hardback which I practically never do, yet I still haven’t got around to reading it. I think it’s because I am nervous that I won’t love it as much as I did Wolf Hall, though I saw it in the bookcase this morning and it was sending out “Read Me” vibes.

    I’ve studied the Tudors twice too and my grandfather was a historian and biographer and I’d never seen Cromwell as anything other than a monster before Wolf Hall, one of the things I really loved about Wolf Hall was how human and rounded Cromwell was.

    I really can’t think why I haven’t read Bring Up The Bodies already..

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    1. Me neither! Funnily enough I was actually holding out for the standard-size paperback as I love the way they look and find hardbacks so cumbersome (since my books travel everywhere with me!) but my lovely Dad snaffled the large format paperback from the airport by chance.
      Who can possibly know what kind of man Thomas Cromwell really was but Hilary Mantel has certainly succeeded in making him a sympathetic figure for me. I just find it a stroke of genius that she can make a story so readable when we all know what happens in the end!

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    1. Overdone as in a bit luxurious and melodramatic? That is, needless to say, what I LOVE 🙂
      Maybe this would be a good stage to compare the book/audiobook – perhaps read Bring Up the Bodies and see if it still comes across in the same way?

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      1. I think you’re right… the length of the audiobook could have compounded my impatience with the literary flourishes and mythical tangents. Despite my misgivings I still do really want to know how ‘what we know happens’ transpires in Mantel’s telling, so if/when my curiosity gets the better of me I will read Bring Up the Bodies rather than listen.

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  3. I’ve been putting off reading Wolf Hall precisely because of the hype, for some reason I want to not hear about a book all the time when I read it. And yes, I know exactly what you mean about not being able to properly review a book I really loved. For example The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett was like that for me. I sat down to write about it a couple years back but all my brain was doing was fan-girling instead of thinking legitimate book review thoughts.
    Hilary Mantel’s talk did make me want to pick up her books sooner rather than later though, and I was really surprised when the media made her into some monster who’d attacked the wonderful Kate! I wanted to call in and message the stations to stop misrepresenting what she said, but decided to not contribute to the frenzy, reasoning that anyone worth their salt would seek out the talk and make up their own minds.

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    1. I know exactly what you mean! For that reason I do try and put a bit of distance between finishing a book and writing a review otherwise I will be either completely overenthusiastic or horrible about it! I do feel like I’m almost being a little too positive about everything I review at the moment. It just comes naturally but perhaps it means I need to start reading out of my comfort zone a bit more…
      The Mantel v Middleton thing was laughable and a little irritating. Particularly when people at work jump on the bandwagon! Like you say, who cares what the readers of ‘The Sun’ think. Mantel doesn’t need to prove anything to anybody.

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