Book Review: BRING UP THE BODIES

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“He once thought it himself, that he might die of grief: for his wife, his daughters, his sisters, his father and master the cardinal. But the pulse, obdurate, keeps its rhythm. You think you cannot keep breathing, but your ribcage has other ideas, rising and falling, emitting sighs. You must thrive in spite of yourself; and so that you may do it, God takes out your heart of flesh, and gives you a heart of stone.” Hilary Mantel, BRING UP THE BODIES, WINNER OF THE 2012 MAN BOOKER PRIZE

Publisher Synopsis:

The sequel to Wolf Hall, Hilary Mantel’s 2009 Man Booker Prize winner and New York Times bestseller, Bring Up the Bodies delves into the heart of Tudor history with the downfall of Anne Boleyn.

Though he battled for seven years to marry her, Henry is disenchanted with Anne Boleyn. She has failed to give him a son and her sharp intelligence and audacious will alienate his old friends and the noble families of England. When the discarded Katherine dies in exile from the court, Anne stands starkly exposed, the focus of gossip and malice.

At a word from Henry, Thomas Cromwell is ready to bring her down. Over three terrifying weeks, Anne is ensnared in a web of conspiracy, while the demure Jane Seymour stands waiting her turn for the poisoned wedding ring. But Anne and her powerful family will not yield without a ferocious struggle. Hilary Mantel’s Bring Up the Bodies follows the dramatic trial of the queen and her suitors for adultery and treason. To defeat the Boleyns, Cromwell must ally with his natural enemies, the papist aristocracy. What price will he pay for Anne’s head?

Bring Up the Bodies is one of The New York Times’ 10 Best Books of 2012, one of Publishers Weekly’s Top 10 Best Books of 2012 and one of The Washington Post’s 10 Best Books of 2012.

My Recommendation:

In this stunning sequel to WOLF HALL, the reader should be familiar with Mantel’s unusual stylistic choices–sometimes addressing the reader through the second person point of view, lines of great meaning and gravity embedded within the narrative the way gems are sewn into royal gowns, ambiguous pronouns (that Mantel makes great pains to illustrate clearly, almost rudely, in this novel)–and can sink immediately into the story that hums with the tension leading up to the death of Anne Boleyn and her unfortunate admirers.

The book is deeply cynical; there might not be an honorable character in the bunch, but all are starkly human, larger than life. Mantel takes a story that has been told, and told, and told, and somehow makes it new. Starting the book is like mounting a runaway horse approaching a cliff, knowing full well the horse will not stop, but going along anyway for the sheer terror and adventure of the ride.

In all honesty, this is a hard recommendation for me. It’s difficult for me to separate the work from the artist, but ultimately, there is no need. BRING UP THE BODIES is well served by its author, because its protagonist, Thomas Cromwell, is quite antagonistic.

Are you intrigued? Have you read this or WOLF HALL? I would love to hear what you think.

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3 thoughts on “Book Review: BRING UP THE BODIES

  1. It was amusing to see how she tackled pronoun confusion in this one after all the complaints from Wolf Hall. I never had a problem with the pronouns, and was mildly annoyed by the breadcrumb (‘rude’ ha!) efforts to make sure no one got lost in the second novel. Guess she was trying to please everyone, and that’s never a good thing.

    I loved this in your review: “Mantel takes a story that has been told, and told, and told, and somehow makes it new. (YES she does!) Starting the book is like mounting a runaway horse approaching a cliff, knowing full well the horse will not stop, but going along anyway for the sheer terror and adventure of the ride.” That, exactly. 🙂

  2. erikarobuck says:

    Thank you! I also figured out her pronouns in Wolf Hall and felt like Mantel was rolling her eyes in Bring up the Bodies every time she wrote,”he, Cromwell…he himself, Thomas…” Hilarious!

  3. Tonya says:

    Erika, I’m still gushing about them both and revisiting them during the PBS miniseries was a treat! My favorite of the two is Wolf Hall. I wish she’d left that pronoun issue alone in Bring Up the Bodies, I had no trouble with them either! My thoughts on both are here: http://tonyalit.typepad.com/readingcorner/man-booker-prize-winners/
    I’m still biting my nails waiting for the third…

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