Friday, May 4, 2012

Musings: Bring Up The Bodies

Bring Up the Bodies Hilary MantelI loved this book.  I have a massive girl crush on her and if I could have a literary dinner with some of my favorite authors, she would be on the invite list.  I love everything I've ever read by Hilary Mantel, I freely admit, and Bring Up the Bodies is no exception.  It's that book I was anticipating receiving so much that I became listless in my reading of anything else while I waited for it to arrive in the mail, knowing that it didn't really matter what I was reading, I would drop it the minute I got my hands on this one.  That's exactly what happened, and the book didn't disappoint.

Bring Up the Bodies is the second book in Hilary Mantel's trilogy about Thomas Cromwell, following on the enormous success of her Booker Prize-winning Wolf Hall.  I loved Wolf Hall, not only because it truly humanized a man who has become more a demonic caricature of himself in the centuries since his life, but also because of Mantel's lyrical writing style.  Bring Up the Bodies is written in the same style (though she clearly has taken note of reader complaints about her use of the pronoun "he" and is much more careful here to make very clear which "he" she is referring to), and I was utterly swept up in it.  It begins, as the cover illustrates, with falconry at Wolf Hall, where King Henry VIII fatefully meets Jane Seymour and sets in motion one of the most dramatic stories in known history.  Once again, we are led by our faithful and highly skilled guide, Thomas Cromwell, through the nooks and crannies, the twists and turns, of Tudor England as Henry VIII turns his affections from Anne Boleyn to Jane Seymour.  The book spans the course of a year, and half of the book takes place over only a few weeks, but this is the climax of Thomas Cromwell's career, the point of no return.  This is when he tests his friends and makes clear his enemies in a way that will set his life on an irreversible track.

This period of history has been written about, staged and televised more times than any of us can contemplate.  We all know how it ends and , and so that makes Mantel's story-telling even more impressive.  Never once was I bored when reading this book; I was always at the edge of my seat, even though I knew, knew all along, exactly how the story would end.  In my review of Wolf Hall, I speculated that in this sequel, we would leave behind the idealistic and kind Thomas Cromwell Mantel revealed to the world and meet the hardened and more ruthless Cromwell that history remembers.  In a way, that is true.  Here, Cromwell is successful.  "But whenever good fortune has called on him, he has been there, planted on the threshold, ready to fling open the door to her timid scratch on the wood."  He is pragmatic.  "It is not so much, who is guilty, as whose guilt is of service to you."  He is vengeful.  "...[this is not about] one year's grudge or two but a fat extract from the book of grief, kept since the cardinal came down."

But he is still also still the tireless, loyal servant to the king who wants what is best for his country.  "His greatest ambition for England is this:  the prince and his commonwealth should be in accord...He wants it to be a household where everybody knows what they have to do, and feels safe doing it."

And so Mantel's skill lies not only in her writing style, which is fluid as a wave that lifts you from the shore of your modern existence to a safe haven of an island where you leave behind everything  about your life and just become completely absorbed into the pages of the novel, but also in her ability to make you sympathize with, empathize with, cheer for and pity Thomas Cromwell through all the terrible, contemptible things he does in this novel.  Perhaps because you know, through it all, how his reign will end, and how fast it will come.  But mostly because Hilary Mantel has gifted us with a Thomas Cromwell that is eloquent, intelligent, loyal and sees the humor in nearly every situation.

Note:  This review is based on an advanced reader's copy.  I received a complimentary copy of this book to review.

34 comments:

  1. I SO need to read Wolf Hall. I was offered a review copy of this too, but ended up passing because I don't own the first book and it would be difficult for me to get it in time. But this sounds seriously amazing and like something I would completely love.

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    1. Oh, you bring up a good point- is it necessary to read Wolf Hall before this one? I think, technically, probably not, but I think your decision was the right one. Wolf Hall is a really fantastic book, and I think you'd really enjoy it, so might as well read it and absorb all of Cromwell's formative years before moving onto this one.

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  2. I fell in love with Wolf Hall during the readalong last fall. At first, I struggled with the "he" issue, but once I figured it out, I was fine with it and loved the story and the writing. I'm glad to hear that she adjusted it in her new book, so that will make it even more readable!

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    1. Yes, I think the "he" issue was frustrating for many of us. I just dealt with it by assuming that "he" was always Cromwell, and then adjusting afterward. Glad that you were able to enjoy it even so.

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  3. I am reading Wolf Hall right now, as I have a copy of this one to read right after. It's my first Mantel, though I do have a copy of Fludd, based on your review :) I think her skill and literary prowess is unmatched, and I am so enamored of the book. It takes a careful reading, but I just get totally lost in it! I can't wait to start this one as well. Fantastic review today, Aarti! I love that you loved this one so much!

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    1. Oh, I can't wait to hear your thoughts on both Wolf Hall and this one- I love them both, but I *may* like Bring Up the Bodies even more. But they're about totally different periods of Cromwell's life, so not sure if I should judge.

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  4. Bangs head. I must read Wolf Hall. 'nuff said.

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  5. I just picked up a copy of Fludd too! Waiting with bated breath for the release of Bring Up the Bodies, I've been embroiled in English history for the last few weeks as it is. Clearly in preparation!

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    1. Ohh, I hope you enjoy Fludd! I really liked it, but am not sure that I GOT all of it. It's one of those I plan to reread when I am (theoretically) wiser.

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  6. I won a copy of this from LibraryThiing, and I'm looking forward to it very much. I was pondering rereading Wolf Hall to refresh my memory but it sounds like it isn't really necessary? (I remember the basic history, of course) Reading both would be a big commitment right now, as much as I'd enjoy it!

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    1. I didn't re-read Wolf Hall and I think I was fine. I probably missed some of the more subtle references, but I think the big ones I got through context clues, so you should be fine!

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  7. I bought Wolf Hall when it first came out. Have never even read the first page. I think it has got to the point where I am intimidated given everything I have heard about it!

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    1. Aw, maybe you should read this one first, then. Not the traditional way of going about things, I know, but it may feel more accessible to you.

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  8. I really liked WOlf Hall, it took me a while to read but it was so interesting and well-written :D

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    1. I agree! We don't seem to have many books in common any more, so I'm glad to see we have this one :-)

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  9. I finally have Wolf Hall on the shelves. It sounds like I really need to get on top of things and read it so I can move on to this one.

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    1. Yeah! Don't let silly things like infants keep you down ;-)

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  10. I have to read Wolf Hall! I have had it on my shelf since Christmas. You wrote a lovely review here, Aarti. I just bought Beyond Black by Hilary, which I suppose explains why I am having problems settling down into anything - I want to read it, and was trying to catch up in some other reading first. The part I read in the bookstore before buying Beyond Black was really interesting.

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    1. Ooh, I have Beyond Black to read, too. I look forward to your review. Or we could read it together!

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  11. Since I seem to have shed my ridiculous fear of chunksters, I'm thinking of starting this series. Loved this musing, Aarti! Thanks!

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    1. Well, I see that Outlander has helped you in many ways, not just one :-)

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  12. I listened to Wolf Hall on audio, but this one sounds like a book I'll want to read faster!

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    1. That is always my trouble with audiobooks, too. I often listen to them at 2X speed :-)

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  13. I can't freaking WAIT to get this! LibraryThing is sending me an Early Reviewer copy and I CAN'T WAIT TO GET IT. I'm going to drop everyhting the moment it arrives!

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    1. That is exactly what I did!

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  14. I think that's one of the qualities that most endears an author's works to me, the ability to bring out human elements of characters that we're used to viewing in a shorthand form. Even though this is not a book that I am as terrifically excited about as you were, your enthusiasm is contagious; I whole-heartedly enjoying reading your thoughts, and clearly imagined your tearing the book from its envelope to be devoured in short order!

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  15. I wonder if I'd be able to enjoy this since I haven't read Wolf Hall. You've made the series sound like must reads.

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  16. I need to read my eBook of Wolf Hall first,, but this does sound good. Hope you are having a good week:)

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  17. Buried in Print - Yes, I agree wholeheartedly! That's why I love Mantel. She brought Robespierre to vivid life for me in A Place of Greater Safety. And did it again with Cromwell here.

    bermudaonion - I think you could definitely read it without reading the first as the history is generally well-known. But perhaps you would enjoy the series more if you read the first book first. It's a lot longer, though!

    Diane - Thanks, Diane :-) I am in Oregon on vacation, so my week is grand.

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  18. *sigh* can't wait!

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    1. I am excited to hear what you think!

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  19. I don't think I can explain how happy I was when I spotted this in the bookstore. I was certain it was due to come out after I was supposed to leave the English speaking world, so the moment I saw it, I grabbed it off the shelf and cannot wait for a quiet opportunity to sink my teeth in it. I really hope my expectations won't be too high what with all these raves, but to be fair, Wolf Hall was so incredible, I can't really see how anything can surpass it. I guess I'll just have to find out for myself!

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  20. I'm halfway through Wolf Hall and am completely mesmerised by Mantel's portrayal of Thomas Cromwell. The book is so different to what I expected and I'm really enjoying reading it. So, of course, I'm looking forward to the sequal and am happy to see you enjoyed it!

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