Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Hilary Mantel, Bring Up the Bodies

I think Hilary Mantel is the best writer in the world. Bring Up the Bodies is a brilliant book that hypnotized me from the first paragraph. Reading it is like falling into a river and being swept away, now tumbling through rushing rapids, then drifting through quiet oxbows, but always in the stream's powerful grip until you bob into a beautiful pool at the end, awed and stunned. Mantel's chronicle of Thomas Cromwell, beginning in Wolf Hall and continuing in Bring Up the Bodies, is the best book I have read since One Hundred Years of Solitude. Of all the serious books I have read in the past twenty years it is the most enjoyable; of all the entertaining books I have read, it is the most profound. And while One Hundred Years of Solitude has the best first sentence ever, I think Bring Up the Bodies has the best ending.

Thomas Cromwell was for a time Henry VIII's right hand man. He helped bring about the fall of Catherine of  Aragon and the marriage to Anne Boleyn, and then he engineered Boleyn's fall so Henry could marry Jane Seymour. He also helped bring about Henry's break from Rome and the reformation of the English church. For all of this he has been intensely controversial ever since. For some reason much of the hatred that belongs to Henry devolved instead on his servant Cromwell, who became the classic wicked adviser. He was therefore a bold choice to make the hero of a major novel. But it works brilliantly. Wolf Hall follows Cromwell's rise to greatness, from blacksmith's son to soldier to Cardinal Wolsey's "man of business," and thence into Henry's service when Wolsey fell. Bring Up the Bodies finds Cromwell at the height of his wealth and power, gathering more and more of the English government into his hands, managing the dissolution of smaller and more corrupt monasteries to the profit of the king and his friends, and watching anxiously for Anne Boleyn to bear the son that was the whole point of her marriage to Henry. When Anne fails in this duty and Henry tires of her, a new crisis overtakes the court, and Cromwell must find his way through it.

I gather that Mantel plans a third book, following Cromwell to his fall and execution. I cannot decide if I like this idea or not. I would love more of her Cromwell and her England, but I have come to know her Cromwell better than I have ever known any fictional character, and though he is a grasping thug, his death would still sadden me. His world -- his family, his friends, his allies and enemies, his thoughts and schemes, his his houses and furniture -- has become mine, for many joyful hours.

1 comment:

Dosti said...

review If there ever was a sequel, this is it. It draws heavily form the prequel (even tiny details you thought inconsequential and irritating then), maintains the tone style pace and form, and yet maintains an identity enough to capture and make the new reader (unknown to the prequel) comfortable.
Hillary Mantel has nicely wrapped up, staged and done justice to the historical nature of the destruction of Anne Boleyn, and all that the prequel was building up to (That becoming noticeable only in hindsight).

Another point that i appreciated about this was the correction of sorts that was done to the pronoun confusion in Wolf Hall (i.e. all the 'he' is referred to Cromwell by default) by marking a 'He, Cromwell, says/ thinks etc...', especially in places more prone to confusion.

Like like. :)