Monday, December 16, 2013

Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel

 Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel won the 2009 Man Booker Prize.  The novel tells a fictionalized account of the rise to power of Thomas Cromwell in 16th-century England.  Every single page of this interesting novel carries the story forward and causes an imperceptible and complete immersion into the lives of these characters.  Mantel became the first woman to win two Man Booker Prizes, when the committee awarded her the 2012 prize for the sequel, Bring Up the Bodies.  I am now awaiting the final volume in this trilogy The Mirror and the Light.

Bring Up the Bodies seamlessly picks up the story where Wolf Hall ended.  Thomas Cromwell is garnering wealth and power while maneuvering amid the complicated and difficult maze that was Tudor England and the Court of Henry VIII.  Anne Boleyn has a daughter Elizabeth and has suffered several miscarriages.  Henry begins to lose patience with Anne, and his eyes have fallen upon Jane Seymour.  Meanwhile, Thomas plays a thrilling, complicated, and enormous chess match with his life, his fortune, and his family at stake.
Hilary Mantel

I have long been fascinated with the Tudor period, and I have a collection of biographies for every major figure of the family and the court, from Henry VII, Henry VIII, Edward VI, Lady Jane Gray, Mary I, and Elizabeth I.  Mantel vividly captures the intrigue, the treachery, the spies, the volatile moods of Henry, as well as the passion, the loves, and she paints wonderfully interesting portraits.  The chess game Cromwell plays extends far beyond England to Spain, Italy, France, Germany, the Low Countries, and all the little nooks and crannies in between.

Henry VIII
Mantel mesmerized me again from the first page of Bring Up the Bodies.  Thomas visits Wolf Hall, his estate, and Mantel writes, “You may find a bride in the forest, old Seymour had said.  When he closes his eyes she slides behind them, veiled in cobwebs and splashed with dew.  Her feet are bare, entwined in roots, her feather hair flies into the branches; her finger, beckoning, is a curled leaf.  She points to him, as sleep overtakes him.  His inner voice mocks him now: you thought you were going to get a holiday at Wolf Hall.  You thought there would be nothing to do here except the usual business, war and peace, famine, traitorous connivance; a failing harvest, a stubborn populace, plague ravaging London and the king losing his shirt at cards.  You were prepared for that” (25-26).  This passage brilliantly illuminates the Tudor period.

Thomas Cromwell
As in Wolf Hall, Mantel provides a detailed list of characters and their individual domains, as well as a family tree.  This information greatly aids the reader unfamiliar with the time period.  Mantel’s novels are a stunning and outstanding introduction to an important and pivotal period in world history.  I will be sorely disappointed if the trilogy does not win a third Booker Prize for The Mirror and the Light.  But start with Wolf Hall, go on to Bring Up the Bodies, and you will find yourself anxiously awaiting the final volume of the trilogy.  5 platinum stars.

--Chiron, 12/14/13

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