A book which is so much easier to read than its predecessor!
Bring up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel
is of course the massively award winning sequel to Wolf Hall, which I have reviewed before. The difference is that Bring up the Bodies is, in my humble opinion, a lot more readable! The difference is that I read it in two months, rather than years. Admittedly that was partly as a result of it being on my e readers (kindle) when I was in Shetland when I didn’t have access to as many books, but I honestly think that I also found it less easy to put down than Wolf Hall. I think that the narrative flowed so much better, and I am not sure how, but that the problem of Cromwell only being described as “he” was solved.
Possibly the theme of this novel, that is the fall of Anne Boleyn, lent itself to a tighter narrative, or the characters were more manageable. The shadow of Wolsey is still there, as the lost family members, but here we see Cromwell as a subtle manipulator who didn’t actually need torture and threats to get results. He saves a friend and condemns others, he works on people so that they condemn themselves. The chilling line, “Bring up the Bodies”, echoes around the novel. The way that Henry the king expresses his wishes, tired of Anne’s brittle attractions, wanting the simplicity of Jane Seymour who is portrayed as either genuinely or deliberately naive. He is not drawn as a sympathetic character, rather a changeable, complaining monarch who tries to recycle gifts between his ladies. There is the breath holding moment when the question of succession seems to be imminently solved, but altogether this is a whining king, bewildered by his wife and petulant that he cannot have his way. He must be managed by Cromwell, persuaded to wait, reasoned with over his relationships. This is the tension reflected in Freemantle’s Queen’s Gambit, of a dictator getting his own way, however unreasonable.
Wolf Hall does appear on our Bookworms group next year, over the summer to give chance for first time readers to get to grips with a big book!
A few book group type Questions
1. This appears to be a shorter book than its predecessor. How do you feel about the inevitable comparisons?
2.The main character, Cromwell, is almost seen in the first person. Is he convincing? are there any other stand out characters, and if so, why?
3. How easy is it to keep up with the narrative? Are there turning points in the novel which stand out?
4. Is the writing interesting, gripping or boring? Were you eager to find out what happened next?
5. Is it a typical historical novel? Is it typical for Mantel? Do you like this genre, or is it completely different from your normal fiction choices?
6. Would you recommend this book? How would you describe it?
Here is hoping that after 4 (!) visits to Hadrian’s wall in a week, including a book launch, I get round to writing a few more posts soon…