Time to Bring up the Bodies

Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel  (HarperCollins)

- Janet Maslin

Two years ago something astonishingly fair happened in the world of prestigious prizes: the Man Booker Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction for 2009 both went to the right winner.

The book was Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall, and it would have dwarfed the competition any year. Wolf Hall was an historical novel that ingeniously revisited well-trod territory (the early marriages of Henry VIII), turned the phlegmatic villain Thomas Cromwell into the best-drawn figure and easily mixed 16th-century ambience with timeless bitchery.

Despite a hugely complicated cast of characters and Ms Mantel’s teasing way of preferring pronouns to proper names, it wound up providing an experience of sheer bliss. It was a hard act to follow. But the follow-up is equally sublime.

In answer to what will surely be everyone’s first question about Ms. Mantel’s "Bring Up the Bodies":

Yes, you can read it cold. Knowledge of Wolf Hall is not a prerequisite to appreciating what Bring Up the Bodies describes, because Ms Mantel sets up her new book so gracefully.

All of Cromwell’s scheming to expedite Henry VIII’s casting off of his first wife, Katherine of Aragon, to marry Anne Boleyn is behind him. So is the schism with the Roman Catholic Church that the first book so thoroughly outlined, manoeuvre by crafty manoeuvre.

All Ms Mantel must do to reintroduce Cromwell is to revisit the most famous image of him: Hans Holbein’s portrait of a ruthless-looking power broker with "his hand clenched around a document as if he were throttling it." She replays the moment in Wolf Hall, when Holbein completed the painting, and Cromwell was startled to see himself looking like a murderer.

Bring Up the Bodies begins in September 1535 and spans less than a year. But the period is enormously eventful, especially when it comes to Henry’s much scrutinized dealings with women. Katherine of Aragon is said to be dying, and what will become of Anne if that happens?

Each woman has borne a female child, but Henry is desperate for a male heir. (‘Careful, madam,’ Anne is told as she bathes, ‘do not wash away a Prince of Wales.’) When Henry is thought dead after an accident, it is suddenly understood that no succession plan exists.

Full review in The New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/02/books/bring-up-the-bodies-a-wolf-hall-sequel-by-hilary-mantel.html?_r=1&ref=books

Extract in The Telegraph: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/hay-festival/9245835/Bring-up-the-Bodies-by-Hilary-Mantel-extract-one.html

Hilary Mantel on Bring Up the Bodies: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/hay-festival/9243796/Hilary-Mantel-on-Bring-up-the-Bodies-the-quicksilver-queen.html

Review in The New Yorker: http://www.newyorker.com/arts/critics/books/2012/05/07/120507crbo_books_wood

Review of the Man Booker Prize winner, Wolf Hall: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/05/books/05maslin.html?_r=1&ref=books


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