Oh my goodness me. I want to marry the way Hilary Mantel writes. I want to compose love poems for it and serenade it over a candle-lit dinner.
If you read one historical series next year, read this one.
Bring Up The Bodies is the the second instalment in Hilary Mantel’s planned trilogy following the career of Thomas Cromwell. A self-made man, he became one of the most powerful figures in England and King Henry VIII’s closest advisor. Bring Up The Bodies takes place during the fall of Anne Boleyn, a truly terrifying period in English history.
Very little is known about Thomas Crowmwell and he is often portrayed as a two-dimensional villainous character in books and films that take place in the Tudor period. To her great credit, Mantel creates a living, breathing character without indulging in any of the stale Cromwell stereotypes. Her Cromwell is a man who can be ruthless, who enjoys his wealth and his power but who is also fiercely intelligent, interested in social reform and sceptical of traditional viewpoints. He recognises the strengths of people who would otherwise be overlooked and ignored and he cares deeply for his family and his household. In other words, he is complex and human and he makes an excellent protagonist.
As I may have hinted before, Mantel’s writing itself is spectacular. Often when I read, I find myself subconsciously editing and scrutinising the writing style – which is really an exhausting and annoying habit that detracts from my enjoyment of the book. Mantel is the sort of writer that lets you just sit and drink everything in. Setting the language aside, the whole plot arc is so deftly constructed. Every episode is there for a reason, everyday scene is benefiting the story in some way. It’s like poetry. It’s just perfect.
So you should read this one. I don’t really have any criticism to offer. History lovers are in for a treat. I’ll leave you with a little taste…
(Taken from a passage in which Cromwell reflects on the process of interrogating Anne’s alleged lovers and engineering their guilt for the advancement of the King’s third marriage to Jane Seymour. He likens the process to a chess game, where the outcome has already been decided).
Let us say you are in a chamber, the windows sealed, you are conscious of the proximity of other bodies, of the declining light. In the room you put cases, you play games, you move your personnel around each other: notional bodies, hard as ivory, black and as ebony, pushed on their paths across the squares. Then you say, I can’t endure this anymore, I must breathe: you burst out of the room and into a wild garden where the guilty are hanging from trees, no longer ivory, no longer ebony, but flesh; and their wild lamenting tongues proclaim their guilt as they die. In this matter, cause has been preceded by effect. What you dreamed has enacted itself. You reach for a blade but the blood is already shed. The lambs have butchered and eaten themselves. They have brought knives to the table, carved themselves and picked their own bones clean.