Review: Bring Up the Bodies

Title: Bring Up the Bodies

bring up the bodiesAuthor: Hilary Mantel

Series: Thomas Cromwell Trilogy #2

Reviewed by Holly

I have made some confessions already on this blog – that I don’t really know anything about the book blogging scene, that I once cry cry cried over Christian Slater, and that for a long time I didn’t ever think about reading non-fiction books for fun – but this time, I’ve got a real doozy for you: I am sort of obsessed with Henry VIII.

I know, I know – that might be sort of a trendy obsession, what with the Jonathan Rhys Meyers version on The Tudors, but that’s not where this started.

Tudors-Jonathan-Rhys-Meyers-1681

As kids, Amanda and I got to take a few family vacations to London, and somewhere in there, at age oh, 7, I learned of the British king who beheaded a few wives. What a great story! I was totally into it. So much that, when we visited Westminster Abbey and got to do the tourist thing of making brass rubbings, Amanda chose a nice knight, but I picked good ol’ Hank. He looked a lot like this, and hung in our house for years.

henryviii

In more recent years, I watched – and loved – the Showtime series, and I was only convinced to start a twitter when Amanda told me that I could follow one Henry Tudor on there. (Note: totally worth it – he says all sorts of funny things.)

Anyway, rest assured that I generally don’t condone the beheadings of one’s wives. Or, breaking off and starting your own church so that you can divorce a wife. Or telling another wife – and the world –  that she looks like a horse. Yet somehow, I find all of these gestures wildly entertaining when they come from Henry.

Now that I have written the longest introduction to a review ever, I shall get on with it. I read Bring Up the Bodies after seeing it mentioned a few places (I am pretty sure I actually first saw it in People magazine – for shame!), because it is a fictional account of the period when the tide turns against Anne Boleyn, ushering in Jane Seymour to be the next in line. It’s actually the second in a trilogy from Hilary Mantel – the first is Wolf Hall, which, according to the synopsis, introduces the power struggle between Cardinal Wolsey and Thomas Cromwell. I haven’t read the first, but – spoiler alert – Cromwell comes out ahead, and he is the central figure in Bring Up the Bodies. Through his perspective, the book covers the period from September 1535 to May 1536, culminating in a less-than-stellar week to be a Boleyn.

I was not in love with the writing style at the beginning – actually, from the very first line of “his children are falling from the sky,” when it did not become apparent for a few more pages that “he” is Thomas Cromwell, and “his children” are hawks named after his dead children. Clearly.

Eventually, I did get (mostly) used to the narrative style, and, thanks to a handy cast of characters provided at the front of the book, managed to keep up with the story. At some point, I got hooked. I wanted to know exactly how they were going to damn poor Anne. (Er, I hope that’s not a spoiler for anyone.)

I wasn’t sure what to make of this book while I was reading it – it took me two weeks to finish, I never did quite manage to keep straight all of the courtiers, and I felt like having watching The Tudors helped quite a lot in understanding Cromwell, Wolsey, and Thomas More. (The fact that I am relying on my education from a Showtime series is probably problematic, yes?) However, now that I’m done, I am thinking that this book will be one that I’ll remember, and I added Wolf Hall to my to-be-read list.

Parting Words: This paragraph made me laugh a little, because it made Thomas Cromwell sound like a guy just trying to do his job, like the rest of us:

During December a landslide, an avalanche of papers has crossed his desk. Often he ends the day smarting and thwarted, because he has sent Henry vital and urgent messages and the gentlemen of the privy chamber have decided it’s easier for them if they keep the business back till Henry’s in the mood. Despite the good news he has had from the queen, Henry is testy, capricious. Any any moment he may demand the oddest item of information, or pose questions with no answer. What’s the market price of Berkshire wool? Do you speak Turkish? Why not? Who does speak Turkish? Who was the founder of the monastery at Hexham?

4 stars

Also, I totally welcome any suggestions for more reading on Henry VIII!

Update: I called Showtime HBO in the first version of this post. Oops. (I watched it on Netflix anyway.)

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