Bring Up the Bodies

By Hilary Mantel

(Henry Holt & Co., $28, 432 pages)

Who is this author?

Hilary Mantel is the brilliant British author who this year won her second Man Booker Prize (the premier British literary award) for “Bring Up the Bodies,” the sequel to her American National Book Award and 2009 Man Booker winner, “Wolf Hall.” Her immersion in the Tudor period of English history is unparalleled, as is her understanding of human strength and frailty. This novel made the The New York Times’ 10 Best Books of 2012 list, was named one of Publishers Weekly’s Top 10 Best Books of 2012 and one of The Washington Post’s 10 Best Books of 2012. Mantel also has published 10 previous novels, including, “A Place of Greater Safety,” and the memoir, “Giving Up the Ghost. “

What is this book about?

We all know the story of the young and lovely Anne Boleyn, one of King Henry VIII’s many hapless wives. But until you read this second volume of Mantel’s trilogy (there is one more book to come), you won’t understand all of the intricate inner workings of the intrigue that eventually led poor Anne to the axman. When the restless King tires of his pretty bride, who has not born him a much-desired son, Henry turns to his fixer-hitman-Machiavellian advisor, Thomas Cromwell, the Karl Rove or David Axelrod of his time, depending on your political perspective. Through Cromwell’s machinations, Henry gets his wish and the readers of this high quality historical novel get a crash course in Tudor treachery that is far more compelling than any earnest but dry nonfiction account.

Why you’ll like it:

History books don’t have all that much to say about the quietly powerful Thomas Cromwell, who knew how to get Henry VIII out of jams of his own making without making himself vulnerable. (At least, in this book, not yet.)  Cromwell did plenty of awful and unlawful things in the service of his headstrong and demanding king. Mantel does some marvelous things in making Cromwell a sympathetic character, and her ability to vividly describe the times and circumstances in which the novel is set is another powerful reason to immerse yourself in this book.

What others are saying:

Library Journal says: “In her sequel to the Booker Man Prize-winning Wolf Hall, Mantel has done what only the most gifted novelist can: she has fleshed out an enigma—the historical cipher that was Thomas Cromwell, Henry VIII’s fixer—and made us accept her interpretation of him as valid. Cromwell helped Henry annul his marriage to his wife of 20 years, Catherine, so he could marry the younger Anne Boleyn. But three years later, Anne has committed two fatal errors: she hasn’t given the king a son, and she has become outspoken. Henry’s eyes are on a younger, more placid woman, Jane Seymour. He wants to be rid of Anne, and it is up to Cromwell to see that Henry gets what he wants. VERDICT:  Mantel’s crowning achievement makes Cromwell not just powerful but sympathetic. Mantel is a consummate setter of scenes: stunning, poetic descriptions are embedded in scenes of savagery and earthiness. The historical novel does not come any better than this. It will be as much of a success as its predecessor.

Kirkus Reviews

“…Seeing through Cromwell’s eyes, a point of view she has thoroughly assimilated, Mantel approaches the major events slantwise, as Cromwell, charged with the practical details of managing Henry’s political and religious agendas, might have. We rejoin the characters as the king’s thousand-day marriage to Anne Boleyn is well along. Princess Elizabeth is a toddler, the exiled Queen Katherine is dying, and Henry’s disinherited daughter Princess Mary is under house arrest. As Master Secretary, Cromwell, while managing his own growing fortune, is always on call to put out fires at the court of the mercurial Henry (who even for a king is the ultimate Bad Boss)…” says Kirkus Reviews.

The New York Times says: “Bring Up the Bodies” is beautifully constructed…it proves delightful to watch and anticipate how Ms. Mantel steers [all the characters] into and out of Cromwell’s view, follows his canny assessments of how to play them off against one another and lays out the affronts for which they will later pay dearly…The wonder of Ms. Mantel’s retelling is that she makes these events fresh and terrifying all over again.

The New York Times Book Review says: “…Mantel’s real triumph is her narrative language. It’s not the musty Olde English of so much historical fiction, but neither is it quite contemporary…In some of her books, Mantel is pretty scabrous in her descriptions of present-day England, its tawdriness and cheesiness and weakness for cliché and prettifying euphemism. “Bring Up the Bodies”…isn’t nostalgic, exactly, but it’s astringent and purifying, stripping away the cobwebs and varnish of history, the antique formulations and brocaded sentimentality of costume-drama novels, so that the English past comes to seem like something vivid, strange and brand new.”

Says The Washington Post: “…darkly magnificent…The pleasures of “Bring Up the Bodies” — and they are abundant, albeit severe — reside in Mantel’s artistic mastery. …Sardonic humor, particularly in scenes with not-nearly-as-dumb-as-she-seems Jane Seymour, leavens the ominous mood. Gruffly compassionate toward villains and victims alike, Mantel reveals their weaknesses and cruelties bundled up in a flawed humanity we share.”

“Mantel knows what to select, how to make her scenes vivid, how to kindle her characters. She seems almost incapable of abstraction or fraudulence; she instinctively grabs for the reachably real…In short, this novelist has the maddeningly unteachable gift of being interesting,” says The New Yorker.

“After pulling off this literary feat twice, you realize the smartest person in the room isn’t Cromwell after all —I t’s Mantel,” says The Huffington Post.

When is it available?

You can find it at the Downtown Hartford Public Library or its Goodwin branch.

Do you have something to say about this book, this author or books in general? Please post your comments here and I will respond. Let’s get a good books conversation going!

Comments are closed.