Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Booker Book #47: Bring Up the Bodies, Hilary Mantel

Bring Up the Bodies is the sequel to Wolf Hall, the 2009 Booker prize winner by Hilary Mantel. The first book tells of the rise of Anne Boleyn, as she eclipses Catherine of Aragon. This is the beginning of Henry VIII's Reformation, which gives birth to the Church of England. But what goes up must come down, and Bring Up the Bodies describes the other side of that meteoric climb: Anne’s fall from grace as she is eclipsed in turn by Jane Seymour, because Anne could not deliver a son and heir. Ironically, it is her child Elizabeth who will eventually claim the throne, but that is not part of this story.

I haven't mentioned the hero of both books yet, but it is not any royal personage; it is Thomas Cromwell. Cromwell is the instrument of the King’s desires, but also an able and subtle influencer with a Midas touch. When the king wishes to put Catherine aside and bring Anne up, Cromwell makes it so. And when the king tires of Anne and wishes to put her aside, again it is Cromwell to the rescue. Despite this description he is no ruthless brute, but a modern man who favors education for women, among other causes, and I grew to like him very much.

Two technical comments. First, I have to wonder if Hilary Mantel heard many complaints about her overuse of an ambiguous “he” in the first book, because here she often (over?) clarifies with a “he, Cromwell,” as in “he said, he, Cromwell....” Second, the title phrase does not refer to digging up dead bodies, but to bringing forth prisoners from the Tower for trial. Yes, they may likely be dead soon, but they're not dead yet. 

At any rate, the story is told in exquisite historical detail and yet in a present tense that keeps the reader in the moment, and almost always in suspense. I found both books to be enthralling masterworks of historical fiction.

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