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Thursday, October 18, 2012

2012 Booker Prize Winner "Bring Up the Bodies (Wolf Hall 2)" by Hilary Mantel (Reviewed by Liviu Suciu)

"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?"

This year's Man Booker shortlist about which I did an earlier post turned out to contain several books of great interest to me including the eventual winner, the big favorite "Bring Up the Bodies" by Hilary Mantel.

"Bring Up the Bodies" is a major novel and a sequel to Wolf Hall, so continuing the saga of Thomas Cromwell, this time in a relatively short period of time from mid 1535 till May 1536. As noted in the blurb, the novel deals with the downfall of Anne Boleyn

This is a subject that has been explored so many times in both fiction and non-fiction, so the outline of the events is well known to anyone with the least interest in English history, but focusing on her "hero", Thomas Cromwell who is usually the villain of the period, Hilary Mantel manages to keep the book interesting as the familiar events happen.

In addition to a quick recollection of the events in "Wolf Hall", Bring Up the Bodies" continues the fleshing of Cromwell as a larger than life character who terrifies most people, while he believes himself acting for the common good. Of course the fundamental flaw in Cromwell's plans is that everything happens at the capricious and tyrannical King Henry's whim, so while today Cromwell is up and going higher, the chances are that he will fall hard and fast when Henry will need him less than he will need Cromwell's numerous and powerful enemies.

As structure and literary qualities, the book just shines - the writing is masterful so it draws one in and makes one turn the pages. The narration is less convoluted than in Wolf Hall and follows Cromwell through his machinations, his larger than life lifestyle and his generosity with the common people, while it does not gloss over his ruthlessness - he needs bodies for the scaffold, he makes sure he gets his enemies and not his friends despite that Anne seems to be involved with both kinds.

This short dialog between Cromwell and his nephew Richard encapsulates well the novel:

"The hours to that event seem long. Richard hugs him; says, ‘If she had reigned longer she would have given us to the dogs to eat.’
‘If we had let her reign longer, we would have deserved it.’"

Overall, "Bring Up the Bodies" is an excellent novel, though maybe more "award winning" written compared to the sprawling but magnificent Wolf Hall to really remain with one for a long time. While it was not my favorite from the shortlist, it was the one novel there that I appreciated and which had a real chance of winning, so I am glad it did win.



Sean said...

Just an FYI that the cover image of this post is not displayed properly in IE (mine is IE9, FF is fine). I do remember there was a similar issue with couple of your posts a while back, which got fixed later(?).

Just thought you might want to know.


Liviu said...

thanks for let me know!
hope now it works (checked it on IE 8 and it does but i do not have IE9)
have no idea why this happens...

Meerabai said...

review If there ever was a sequel, this is it. It draws heavily form the prequel (even tiny details you thought inconsequential and irritating then), maintains the tone style pace and form, and yet maintains an identity enough to capture and make the new reader (unknown to the prequel) comfortable.
Hillary Mantel has nicely wrapped up, staged and done justice to the historical nature of the destruction of Anne Boleyn, and all that the prequel was building up to (That becoming noticeable only in hindsight).

Another point that i appreciated about this was the correction of sorts that was done to the pronoun confusion in Wolf Hall (i.e. all the 'he' is referred to Cromwell by default) by marking a 'He, Cromwell, says/ thinks etc...', especially in places more prone to confusion.

Like like. :)


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