Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Book of the Week - Hilary Mantel, Bring up the Bodies

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel was the best selling Booker Prize winner of recent years. You could have picked up a signed first edition when I recommended it in 2009 for cover price, and the cheapest online copy is currently around £300. Bring up the Bodies is the sequel to Wolf Hall, the second novel to feature Thomas Cromwell with a third in the pipeline. Reviews seem if anything to be better than those for Wolf Hall, although I should confess at this point that I was one of those who was underwhelmed by the latter and who failed to see what all of the fuss was about. Bring up the Bodies comes as a standard hardcover in dust wrapper (first print run unknown to me but likely to be relatively large) and a limited signed hardcover in a slipcase with a print run on 2000 copies. I’m sure that neither will ever reach the value of Wolf Hall, but still a worthwhile book to pick up.

 'My boy Thomas, give him a dirty look and he'll gouge your eye out. Trip him, and he'll cut off your leg,' says Walter Cromwell in the year 1500. 'But if you don't cut across him he's a very gentleman. And he'll stand anyone a drink.' By 1535 Thomas Cromwell, the blacksmith's son, is far from his humble origins. Chief Minister to Henry VIII, his fortunes have risen with those of Anne Boleyn, Henry's second wife, for whose sake Henry has broken with Rome and created his own church. But Henry's actions have forced England into dangerous isolation, and Anne has failed to do what she promised: bear a son to secure the Tudor line. When Henry visits Wolf Hall, Cromwell watches as Henry falls in love with the silent, plain Jane Seymour. The minister sees what is at stake: not just the king's pleasure, but the safety of the nation. As he eases a way through the sexual politics of the court, its miasma of gossip, he must negotiate a 'truth' that will satisfy Henry and secure his own career. But neither minister nor king will emerge undamaged from the bloody theatre of Anne's final days. In Bring up the Bodies, sequel to the Man Booker Prize-winning Wolf Hall, Hilary Mantel explores one of the most mystifying and frightening episodes in English history: the destruction of Anne Boleyn. This new novel is a speaking picture, an audacious vision of Tudor England that sheds its light on the modern world. It is the work of one of our great writers at the height of her powers.”

1 comment:

Portugal said...

If you have already read Wolf Hall: A Novel and relished Mantel's ability to capture a period in time now nearly five centuries distant, you may as well stop reading this review immediately and hit the "buy now" button to order this sequel, because the second volume in the proposed trilogy is even better. The focus is tighter - on the nine months or so leading up to the fall and execution of Anne Boleyn -- and once again Mantel recounts the events through the eyes of the consummate politician, Cromwell, who has learned well from Machiavelli and who yet still earns the understanding of readers, if not always our sympathy. Cromwell's motivations and goals may be sympathetic -- he seeks to run the kingdom well, to find a way to school and support male orphans who are abandoned (and who thus will support the female orphans), to mentor educated young men -- even when what it takes to do that makes us squirm with unease. Even when those ends justify the means of getting rid of a queen who has not done her duty. "If she will not go, she must be pushed, and I must push her, who else?" To that end, justice becomes utilitarian: it is not who is guilty, so much as what they may be guilty of, and what guilt is of use to Cromwell, acting on the king's behalf.