Book Review: Bring Up The Bodies

Book Review: Bring Up The Bodies by Hilary Mantel

Bring Up the Bodies (Thomas Cromwell, #2)Bring Up The Bodies is the second book in Hilary Mantel’s trilogy focusing on Thomas Cromwell, self-made man, advisor to King Henry VIII, and arguably the most powerful man in England during a brief period of the Tudor reign. The first book, Wolf Hall,  covers Cromwell’s rise to power and his role in Henry’s divorce of Katherine of Aragon and marriage to Anne Boleyn. Bring Up The Bodies traces Queen Anne’s fall from favor and her ultimate destruction, as viewed through the lens of Cromwell’s own role in the dramatic and controversial events.

This is ground well-covered through a myriad of history books, historical novels, and dramatizations, yet author Hilary Mantel finds a fresh angle. By using Thomas Cromwell as the point-of-view perspective for the story, we get a peek into the mind of one of England’s most enigmatic historical figures and at the same time see the court machinations through the eyes of someone who wields great power and yet is constantly an outsider due to low birth. As a result, we view Henry and Anne from a distance, and can only marvel at the deceit, treachery, and political maneuvers that form the daily texture of life in the Tudor palace. Bring Up The Bodies captures the events of the time and presents the ups and downs, the legal and political details, and the impact on the kingdom and its people in a way that breathes new life into the drama of these events.

Hilary Mantel’s writing is spectacular, as it was in Wolf Hall, with its own quirky rhythms and phrasings, and a use of language that is unparalleled in most modern fiction. Simple lines like:

The susurration, tapesty-muffled, of polyglot conversation.

… simply take my breath away. Quiet descriptions are powerfully conveyed in language that demands to be noticed:

And now night falls on Austin Friars. Snap of bolts, click of key in lock, rattle of strong chain across wicket, and the great bar fallen across the main gate. The boy Dick Purser lets out the watchdogs. They pounce and race, they snap at the moonlight, they flop under the fruit trees, heads on paws and ears twitching. When the house is quiet — when all his houses are quiet — then dead people walk about on the stairs.

Once again, it took me a few chapters to adapt to the author’s use of pronouns. Throughout the book, the word “he” almost always refers to Cromwell, even if the preceding reference is to someone else. Occasionally, but not always, the author will make it a bit clearer, using phrasing such as “He, Thomas Cromwell, shrugs.”

I could open to any page in this magnificent book and find an example of outstanding writing… so I’ll indulge and quote one more that captures, for me, the author’s unique style:

All summer has been like this, a riot of dismemberment, fur and feather flying; the beating off and the whipping in of hounds, the coddling of tired horses, the nursing, by the gentlemen, of contusions, sprains and blisters. And for a few days at least, the sun has shone on Henry.

I can’t say enough good things about Bring Up The Bodies — which, like its predecessor Wolf Hall, won the Man Booker Prize and many other accolades and awards. I absolutely want to read the third book in the trilogy, which I believe is expected to be published in 2015. Bring Up The Bodies is proof that even familiar subject matter can be new and exciting in the hands of a talented writer with a compelling vision.

I read Bring Up The Bodies all in one day, while enduring about 12 hours of travel time through three airports and two flights. It was an intense reading experience, but I’m glad I had the opportunity to consume this book without interruption. Whether or not you have enough hours to devote to a straight read-through or prefer to enjoy Hilary Mantel’s writing in smaller bites, if you appreciate beautiful language and a compelling plot, I think you’ll find Wolf Hall and Bring Up The Bodies well worth your time.

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The details:

Title: Bring Up The Bodies
Author: Hilary Mantel
Publisher: Picador
Publication date: 2012
Genre: Historical fiction
Source: Purchased

4 thoughts on “Book Review: Bring Up The Bodies

    • I spent a LOT of time on planes that day! It was intense, but also a great way to read it. I think I prefer Wolf Hall as well, maybe just because it covered more unfamiliar territory, but Bring Up the Bodies was definitely hard to put down — and I’m always fascinated by Anne Boleyn.

  1. Oh, I really need to read this book! I didn’t realize that this one was also told through Cromwell’s perspective, but I can totally see how by doing so Mantel is able to make her story unique in a way that so many other books about the demise of Anne Boleyn haven’t been able to. That writing style does sound very strange, but hopefully it’ll be something that I can pick up on once I’ve read a few chapters. Great review! I can’t wait to read it myself eventually!

    • Have you read Wolf Hall? If not, definitely start there. You’re right about the writing style, but once you get into the swing of it, it’s really quite lovely. If you read it, let me know what you think!

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