Book Review: “Bring Up The Bodies”

2012 Booker Prizer winner
2012 Booker Prizer winner

The more wonderful a book is, the more miserable I feel once it’s finished. I think it’s because I bond so intensely with a truly good book for whatever brief and fleeting time we have together, but once that last page turns, our encounter will never be the same again. The book has a personality and spirit of its own that I connect with deeply, and rereading, while offering new insights, simply cannot offer the same thrill and novelty as the first time.

Ever since Friday night, I’ve been grieving the end of “Bring Up The Bodies,” the sequel to Booker Prize-winner Wolf Hall that just came out earlier this year and — get this — also won the Booker Prize. Author Hilary Mantel must be feeling pretty good this year, as she should, because she’s a fantastic writer. “Bring Up The Bodies” is set in Tudor England during the reign of King Henry VIII and tells the story of Anne Boleyn’s fall from favour from the perspective of Thomas Cromwell, Henry’s right-hand man and Master Secretary of the realm. Anne Boleyn was eventually beheaded under charges of adultery and incest, but the indictments were surprisingly vague and one wonders if much of it was construed by Henry and Cromwell to oust her from power because of her failure to produce a male heir and the king’s new romantic interest in Jane Seymour.

What struck me most of all was witnessing how Henry’s decision-making seemed to unleash an irreversible tide of negative results. While I understand him to have been a fairly good and charismatic ruler, it’s as if by divorcing his first wife Katherine of Aragon, dismantling the Catholic Church in England, and reinstating himself as head of the new Anglican Church of England, he precipitated endless problems for himself and the country. Everything went downhill from there. After a 20-year marriage to Katherine, he barely lasted three years with Anne Boleyn, who is also rumoured to be a witch. He had four more wives after her and only one male heir was born. Talk about bad luck.

While “Wolf Hall” is a tougher read, “Bring Up The Bodies” flows much more easily. Mantel still uses dialogue as the basis for her storytelling (there are relatively few descriptive passages), but it’s as if she’s really found her voice this time round. Perhaps it flows better because the numerous complex characters have already been introduced in “Wolf Hall” and there’s not as much explaining to do. I read the 400-page book in two days, which is really saying something with two little kids tearing around the house. I literally couldn’t put it down.

I highly recommend this book if you’re into historical fiction, but it’s a good idea to tackle “Wolf Hall” first. The challenge is definitely worth the result, hence my inconsolable grief at having to wait a while till the final book in the Cromwell trilogy comes out. (Thanks, Kelly, for your recommendation!)

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5 thoughts on “Book Review: “Bring Up The Bodies”

  1. Until about a year ago, I’d barely touched historical fiction. What I had read had been bad, to the extreme, I realized after reading Sandra Byrd and Ariana Franklin. Sounds as if I need to add Hilary Mantel to my must-read list. Sandra really ignited a fascination in me for Tudor England. I will be adding Wolf Hall and Bring Up The Bodies to my shelves.

    Just from the little I’ve read and remember from school, I completely agree with your assessment of Henry IIIV…. the choices and decisions he made his own undoing. One wonders if this charismatic yet intemperate sovereign truly appreciated the consequences that unfolded from his rule?

  2. Oh a book hangover – those suck, K. I’ve had several this year… actually I’ve re-read everything this year TWICE because I got so stuck in the books. Hope your hangover doesn’t last too long!

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