Bring Up The Bodies by Hilary Mantel: A Review

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 Those who are made can be unmade.”

Bring Up The Bodies

Hilary Mantel

How we met: I had been eagerly waiting for it ever since I read Wolf Hall, which I reviewed here

Six word summary: Unfaithful shrew loses husband, also head.

My Grade: A++

If you’ve been here before, you’ll know that I adored Wolf Hall. It was witty, intelligent, and very much gave the feeling of being the peak of a writer’s oeuvre. That sort of brilliance just come once in your career, right? It’s not the sort of thing a writer can repeat?

Hilary Mantel can. She can take a fucking amazing novel and just write an even more awesome sequel to it, just like that. Bring Up The Bodies picks up where Wolf hall left off. Wolf Hall was about Anne Boleyn’s rise to power as the Queen of England, told through the perspective of Thomas Cromwell. Bring Up The Bodies chronicles the downfall of the same lady, owing partly to her harridan nature and partly to her inability to bear an heir for the King.

Jane Seymore, totally not living up to her nickname of ‘Milksop’

Henry VIII, the King in question, has spent years wooing Anne Boleyn and has even made the Church his enemy and risked excommunication to marry her. But now it looks like he is disillusioned at the anticlimax of marriage, at the capricious nature of his bride, and at the series of miscarriages one after the other. His eyes have begun wandering, particularly in the direction of the quiet, mild mannered, unglamorous Jane Seymour, lady-in-waiting to his wife. When Anne’s indiscretions and infidelities come to light, it is all the excuse the King needs to do away with her.

It’s not easy to induce an element of suspense to a historical novel, particularly for such an well-documented period, familiar to most English speaking people. But Ms. Mantel achieves that too, and when the King has an accident and is believed dead, the blood rushes from your head and you can actually feel inside you the horror and confusion of the onlookers, even though you know as a fact that Henry lived to have a son with Jane Seymour.

If you can keep your head when all about you/ Are losing theirs and blaming it on you..

Hilary Mantel’s character descriptions and growth are so powerful that I actually feel as though I know the characters in all their dimensions.  I know Anne’s arrogance, but I also know her vulnerability. I know Jane’s soft spoken mildness, but I also know her deliciously sharp sense of humor. Mantel doesn’t describe these people for us, she draws them into our skins, and we feel as if we’ve known them for all our lives. Which is why, I guess, it was both horrific and fantastic to witness, from the front row as it were, the execution of Anne Boleyn and her lovers. Anne Boleyn had been such an indestructible, determined woman in my mind, I couldn’t believe what was happening even as the executioner raised his sword.

But if you ask me the most gripping element of the book, it is, once again, Master Cromwell, who uses his substantial intelligence and imagination to remove one obstacle after the other for his King, even as he realizes the fact that one day he shall lose all his power, as does everybody. Cromwell’s immense influence makes a dark combination with his acceptance of the precariousness of his office. Also breathtaking was the revelation of the depth and extent of Cromwell’s loyalty to his original mentor, Cardinal Wosley, whose ruin and death was brought about by Anne Boleyn and her cronies. Trust me, you would not want someone like Thomas Cromwell nursing a vengeance against you.

Cromwell with Cardinal Wosley

A lot of people had complained about a pronoun problem in Wolf Hall (Mantel used the pronoun ‘he’ liberally without specifying who she meant). I didn’t have a problem with it personally, because it helped keep me on my toes throughout the book. But it’s good to see she has corrected that problem here. I think she had already written Bring Up The Bodies when her publishers approached her(very nervously, in my mind, trembling even) and brought the fact to her notice. And Ms. Mantel, in the spirit of magnanimity of truly great writers, obliged her fans by adding a ‘he, Cromwell’ after every confusing pronoun.

Hilarly Mantel has my vote for the most awesome writer of our generation. Please ma’am, sit down and write the last book of the trilogy. A billion of us are waiting.

Read this book if:

  • You like awesomely written books
  • You like historical novels
  • You read and enjoyed Wolf Hall

Amritorupa “Tudor or not Tudor” Kanjilal