Friday, September 21, 2012

Bring Up the Bodies ~ Hillary Mantel

I finished this audiobook a few weeks ago, but graduate school is rather incompatible with blogging, hence my absence from the interwebs of late.  My apologies.

So Bring Up the Bodies is sometimes called a sequel to Wolf Hall, another novel of Mantel's which I have not read.  However, since my library did not have Wolf Hall on audiobook and both are historical fiction, I deemed this point to be pointless.  Both deal with the history of the Tudors, which I think I've read enough about to be able to jump in at any point really, and if some lost reader out there has not, there is always Wikipedia.  Or just winging it because really, that's probably fine.  Remember how all you ever learned about the Tudors in school was how Henry VIII beheaded Anne Boleyn and married a bunch of other ladies?  There, you're all caught up.

Bring Up the Bodies picks up the soap opera after Anne Boleyn has given birth to Elizabeth and around the time that Henry is becoming disenchanted with her.  We find a Henry that's not quite the tyrant we've come to know (in other tellings that is) and not even so hyper-sexualized as one would think.  He's kind of old, falling asleep at the dinner table and blustering through awkward situations, falling for a plain, pious woman who is seen as a bit of a joke but will be the woman he loves above all others (probably because she dies before he has a chance to stop liking her and also because she gives him a legitimate son, but that's not in this book).

I really like that this book was told from the perspective of the enigmatic Thomas Cromwell, especially since the Tudor history is so often feminized, focusing on the women.  Cromwell is finding himself in that awkward place between having just turned Europe upside down to get Henry the marriage he wanted and realizing that now he will have to find a way to end it.  We see bits of Thomas's past as a weak boy under his father's boot and then a mercenary traveling through Europe.  He is a malleable man who can conform himself to the view of the highest bidder and always does what is required of him.  But we find too that he is a man of bitter resentments.  There was a quote near the end that I loved but don't have verbatim (forgive me, it's an audiobook).  It runs along the lines of "what he needed was a guilty man, though not necessarily guilty of the crime for which he was accused."  Ouch.  I'm not sure how historically accurate this bit is, but Thomas seems to use Anne's downfall to get rid of a few inconvenient men whose crimes against from former mentor, Cardinal Wolsey, he has never forgiven.  But at the same time, he is completely identifiable.

As for Jane, she appeared every bit a conglomeration of what the varying histories say, but in a good way.  She's quiet and pious and submissive but there is a moment - just one - where she makes a seemingly innocent comment about how she does not understand how the King can merely divorce Anne, for he will never have peace.  It is, of course, decided that Anne will have to be executed, not just divorced, leaving us to wonder if Jane was really so sweet and passive after all or played Anne's own game, just much more subtly and far more successfully.

A note on the reading: it was very well done, with the proper inflections and cadences.  I did find that many of the women (not just Catherine, who is still alive at the beginning of the novel) had a bit of a Spanish accent, which was odd.  It was not necessarily the best book for an audiobook adaptation, at least for me because it was so quiet, but it was very well done.  Oh, and the names will drive you crazy, especially if like me you don't listen in situations where it's convenient to figure out exactly which Francis we're talking about now.  But you'll get the gist.

Overall, it was really quite a good fictionalization of the Tudor history and makes me want to get my hands on Wolf Hall next.  I highly recommend it for anyone who has interest in the Tudor history and doesn't know where to start or for someone who wants a different look at those familiar events.


  1. I have to admit that I didn't love this book, although I liked it more than I did Wolf Hall, which I found clunky and over-long. I'm glad your experience was more positive than mine!

    1. Oh, that's too bad. I'll go check out your review to compare notes. :]