Monday, November 07, 2016

Bring Up the Bodies

I read Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel years ago and eagerly anticipated its sequel, Bring Up the Bodies, and got a copy as soon as it was released...and then proceeded to let it sit on the shelf until I finally got an audio copy and listened to it over the past few weeks.

What an amazingly good book.  I know the story of Anne Boleyn and HVIII very, very well, but I was still on the edge of my seat as Mantel told the familiar story with Thomas Cromwell as the protagonist. Mantel hit on a singularly brilliant premise since Cromwell is the guy everyone loves to hate, but how can you hate him when you learn about his relationship to his family and staff.

True, he is cold-blooded and calculating, but Mantel softened this by making his overriding motivation to be his loyalty to his mentor, Cardinal Wolsey.  Exacting revenge on those who brought Wolsey down guided Cromwell even more than self-preservation in Mantel's version of the story and I think it is this, as well as his treasuring of his son, Gregory, that makes Cromwell into the hero of this sad, sordid story.

I really enjoyed this as an audio book as well--the reader really made me dislike Anne, with her affected accent, and Henry, with his callous, slightly nasal sound.  I think the reader, Simon Vance, really enhanced Mantel's novel with his rendition of it.

Now I'm ready to rewatch Wolf Hall, seasons 1 and 2, as we await the third book in the series, The Mirror and the Light, which is due out in 2017.  Although it will be so very difficult to witness the downfall of Cromwell, as I expect book 3 to chronicle, I trust Mantel to close her story of Thomas Cromwell in a way that will make us mourn this much maligned figure of history.

The writing in Bring Up the Bodies is even better than Wolf Hall--clear, immediate, powerful, spare but rich in imagery and dense with meaning.  Absolutely first rate historical fiction.

This is the 9th book in my TBR Pile Challenge that I have finished so far.  


  1. I have not read Hilary Mantel but I would like to. I have heard so many good things about these books.

    A good reader of an audiobook can keep one engaged. On the other hand sometimes I fear that he or she might be altering the tone and meaning of aspects of the book.

  2. I have listened to Simon Vance narrate/perform Bleak House and I agree, he is excellent.

    I will be first in line to read The Mirror and the Light. I really loved both of the first two books. Amazing how Mantel is able to bring history to life and make the reader feel like they are there, in that moment.

  3. I agree, I loved this one even more than Bring Up the Bodies. I never listen to audio books though, so many people mention that the narrator's voice was annoying. I've always disliked Anne. If you're interested you can read some of the actual love letters between Henry and Anne on Project Gutenberg.

  4. I dislike Mantel but believe these books are absolutely brilliant. I fell in love with this period as a child, watching the Six Wives of Henry VIII with my mother (who made half-hearted attempts to send me to bed), then majored in Renaissance History in college. Her ability to bring these characters to life so convincingly would be impressive alone but making me root for Cromwell when I have considered him the enemy for 40 years is amazing. I do dislike the present tense and wonder why she uses it. Did you watch the PBS version? The actress who played Anne Boleyn was pretty good and is now playing young QEII in the new series I have not seen but which sounds intriguing.

    1. I did watch the PBS series of Wolf Hall, and thought it good. I didn't realize the actress in Crown, which I haven't started yet, was the same actress who played Anne in Wolf Hall.

      I also loved watchign the Six Wives, and before that I was a big fan of Anne of the Thousand Days.

      I'm not a fan of the present tense either, but the writing in both Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies is amazing. Such skill and deftness.

  5. I liked this novel too. I liked all the suspicion and scheming going on around the court. Made it feel dangerous & claustrophobic. A lot of atmosphere! Is the TV series good?? thx