Fionnuala’s review of Bring Up the Bodies (Thomas Cromwell, #2) > Likes and Comments

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message 1: by Kris (last edited Sep 15, 2012 07:18AM) (new)

Kris As a historian, I am very picky about historical fiction, especially when it covers history close to the period I studied. But I love the Wolf Hall books. You beautifully captured some of the reasons why. There is this wonderful immediacy to Mantel's writing, and I feel like no one does a better job balancing a carefully researched view of the past with a nuanced and deep depiction of the characters who populate that world - and who seem very familiar to us in the 21st century.


message 2: by Fionnuala (new)

Fionnuala I feel like no one does a better job balancing a carefully researched view of the past with a nuanced and deep depiction of the characters who populate that world
I agree. Her account could stand up to the rigours of a doctoral jury and at the same time offers us almost a cinematographic experience.


message 3: by ·Karen· (new)

·Karen· I wish I could double or triple like this pithy piece.


message 4: by Fionnuala (new)

Fionnuala Thank you for the generous sentiment, Karen. And for inventing new verbs!


message 5: by ·Karen· (new)

·Karen· A propos: I was just reading this piece in the New Yorker about the fatwa against Salman Rushdie (penned by the man himself)

http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/20...

In it there's a quote from the Cambridge historian Arthur Hibbert:

"At the beginning of their work together, Hibbert gave him a piece of advice he never forgot. “You must never write history,” he said, “until you can hear the people speak.”

I think you may consider yourself thoroughly endorsed.


message 6: by Fionnuala (last edited Sep 21, 2012 04:41AM) (new)

Fionnuala Yes, yes, exactly. Did you ever read James Shapiro's book on Shakespeare, '1599'? He did enormous research for it, gave us all the details of the period but I was so frustrated in the end - I had wanted to hear Shakespeare speak - the man who had put wonderful speeches into so many mouths! Even just a little bit of dialogue...


message 7: by Cheryl (last edited Sep 16, 2012 02:21AM) (new)

Cheryl It seems many books ago that I read this terrific book. So far I have read or am reading 3 others on the Booker shortlist (Swimming Home, Garden of the Evening Mist, The Lighthouse) and He, Cromwell still has my vote far and away.
A great review Fionnuala.


message 8: by ·Karen· (new)

·Karen· Fionnuala wrote: "Yes, yes, exactly. Did you ever read James Shapiro's book on Shakespeare, '1599'? "

No, don't know that one.

Have a good trip. The weather looks promising.


message 9: by Anastasia (new)

Anastasia Hobbet Your review made me realize I'd never entered this book here, tho I read it as soon as it was available last May. Mantel is one of the very top writers working in English. Middle books of trilogies are sometimes tricky to both start and finish, making all those linkages yet still creating an independent work of art. But she did it. The book is as worthy of praise as her first. Will she get a second Booker for it?


message 10: by Fionnuala (last edited Sep 17, 2012 05:37AM) (new)

Fionnuala That's a good point about the challenges of middle books, Anastasia. Mantel was indeed obliged to recap some of the events of Wolf Hall but it was quite subtly done. I think the biggest challenge was finding enough material for this volume. She had covered so much in the first book and clearly wants to finish telling Cromwell's story in a third volume so she had to stretch the events of this book quite a bit to fill this middle space. The events take place in a very short time frame too, about nine months and there are fewer subplots unlike Wolf Hall, when Henry's intimate affairs had to share the stage with the tumultuous events of Cromwell's family life and early history plus the wider world of the conflict with Rome, the reformation and the lives of Cardinal Wolsey and Thomas More. Mantel succeeded wonderfully in this second volume in spite of everything and the book deserves to win any and every prize. But shouldn't the Booker be about bringing readers' attention to new talent? I haven't read the rest of the shortlist, unlike you Cheryl but I can imagine that the writers who are on it must feel that it is really bad luck to be up against Mantel.


message 11: by Anastasia (new)

Anastasia Hobbet Only two other writers have ever nabbed the Booker twice, Peter Carey and J.M. Coetzee, so Mantel's odds aren't good, and I don't think she'll win it. I say that without having read any of the others on the short list. The reasons: because yes, part of the Booker's purpose is to draw attention to writers who don't have a big audience; and second, because Mantel will have another chance when she completes the trilogy. I can see the judges making an excellent case for awarding it to her again at that point, assuming she finishes with the same panache. And you could make the argument, especially in the US, that she is 'new talent.' She isn't widely known there, despite her brilliance.


message 12: by Fionnuala (new)

Fionnuala You may be right, Anastasia. Mantel's Wolf Hall win is a bit too recent.
I finally read that Rushdie article, Karen. It was interesting for several reasons apart from the Hibbert quote. Fascinating information about The Satanic Verses.


message 13: by ·Karen· (new)

·Karen· I just revisited this review, having read BUTB now. She did get the second booker didn't she? And well-deserved I'd say. I've not read all of the short list, but those I have read aren't a patch on this.


message 14: by Fionnuala (new)

Fionnuala Hope you enjoyed the book, Karen.
I think Mantel did get the Booker for this.
I've been reading less and less of the long or short listed Booker books these last few years. Someday I'll look back at this decade and I'll hardly be able to remember any of its authors. Curious.


message 15: by Jane Anne (new)

Jane Anne What a great thread to read! I especially like the comment about wanting to double or triple like the original pithy review. My immediate thought was maybe I could Quadruple it? These books are just such an incredible achievement in the world of fiction, historical fiction and I like the term historical analysis. Kudos!


message 16: by Fionnuala (new)

Fionnuala Thank you for your generous comments, Jane Anne - glad you enjoyed both the review and the discussion thread.

These books are indeed unique and I look forward to the third - I'm just savouing the thought of it in the meantime..


message 17: by Cinda (new)

Cinda MacKinnon This has been on my reading list but hasn't made it to the top yet for exactly the reasons you mention: haven't I read my fill of Henry VII and the Tudor wives? So thank you for this review - I will move it to the top! She's a wonderful writer and I just needed this as a nudge.


message 18: by Cinda (new)

Cinda MacKinnon Strange I see you read this and reviewed over a year ago - so why is Goodreads sending me a notice of a "new" review? (Not a question just a public observation!)


message 19: by Fionnuala (new)

Fionnuala I haven't edited this review or added it to my update feed, Cinda.
I think perhaps Gr has adjusted the system so that any reviews which receive a random 'like', automatically get reposted. This one received such a random 'like' in the last few days and so it may have fallen in line for the new treatment.
But if my review has nudged you towards reading this book, then the new gr policy can't be entirely bad - although I've heard a lot of complaints these last few days about members' home pages overflowing with non-current reviews, often ones they've read and liked before.
It sounds like a policy that needs a little rethinking...


message 20: by Jane Anne (new)

Jane Anne Maybe this popped up because I made my comment in the last few weeks?? And now it may popup again.


message 21: by Jane Anne (new)

Jane Anne As to having had my fill of Tudor wives, and I've read plenty in my day...well after reading Bring up the Bodies, I knew I had to read more. I read Divorced, Beheaded, Survived. It was very good. More on the domestic side of everyone's life. I felt like I actually learned a lot of tidbits that more scholarly books don't discuss. It had an excellent first chapter about Henry's grandmother Margaret Tudor... What a power house she was! Nicely written. Supposedly from a feminist angle but not sure about that exactly meant. It is written from the perspective of Henry's wives not him. Definitely worth reading (and it reads quickly, always a plus in my view!)


message 22: by Fionnuala (new)

Fionnuala Jane Anne wrote: "As to having had my fill of Tudor wives, and I've read plenty in my day..."

Isn't it curious, I've no interest at all in Henry or his wives. It's Thomas Cromwell who interests me. And not even Thomas himself but Mantel's creation: the words, the way she puts them together, the metaphors she uses - the entire attraction is Mantel's gifted writing.


message 23: by Fionnuala (new)

Fionnuala This review from 2012 got a stray 'like' today and I couldn't resist revisiting it to see how it was ageing - on that score, it seems to be doing fine, I'd hardly change a word two years on.
But I did notice a curious thing: the 77 'likes' for this review are mostly from people I'm not friends with on goodreads, people who found it by accident.

The first book in Mantel's Cromwell series, Wolf Hall, features on the BBC's recent list of the 12 best books of the century so far - http://www.bbc.com/culture/story/2015... - so she's clearly popular and the amount of stray 'likes' reflects that, I suppose.
The BBC's list is a funny mixture - and it made me wonder how they compiled it so I checked: the books have been selected from a pool of 156 books published in English nominated by professional reviewers and editors. This is the order that emerged when all the nominators had voted on the total list:
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
The Known World
Wolf Hall
Gilead
The Corrections
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay
A Visit from the Goon Squad
Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk
Atonement
Half of a Yellow Sun
White Teeth
Middlesex
The eight runners up:
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Americanah
WG Sebald, Austerlitz
Elena Ferrante, My Brilliant Friend
Alan Hollinghurst, The Line of Beauty
Cormac McCarthy, The Road
Zadie Smith, NW
Roberto Bolaño, 2666
Shirley Hazzard, The Great Fire

I've read thirteen of them and some of those thirteen I'd never group together for any reason, e.g., A Visit from the Goon Squad and Gilead?
Lists always confuse me.

All that just to say that Bring Up the Bodies might get my vote for my best book of the century so far.


message 24: by Jane Anne (new)

Jane Anne Ok... I have to chime in. Ijust finishedAnericanah


message 25: by Jane Anne (new)

Jane Anne Ok sorry my comment is garbled and I can't figure out how to delete it. Just finished Americanah and it is Excellent. Great sense of time and place, characters and human nature. Definitely recommend it. But I would still say these two books of Hilary Mantel's far surpass almost anything else I have read. Just my opinion!


message 26: by Fionnuala (new)

Fionnuala Jane Anne wrote: "Just finished Americanah and it is Excellent. Great sense of time and place, characters and human nature. Definitely recommend it. But I would still say these two books of Hilary Mantel's far surpass almost anything else I have read. Just my opinion!"

Interesting to hear your reaction to Adichie's book - I quite liked Half a Yellow Sun.
I'm delighted of course that you endorse Mantel - I wouldn't quite say her books surpass anything I've ever read but I'd definitely place them among my top books of the 21st century.


message 27: by Kim (last edited Jun 24, 2015 03:20AM) (new)

Kim Fionnuala wrote: "It's Thomas Cromwell who interests me. And not even Thomas himself but Mantel's creation: the words, the way she puts them together, the metaphors she uses - the entire attraction is Mantel's gifted writing. ..."

My view exactly, Fionnuala. Mantel made me totally believe in her Thomas Cromwell and I don't care whether or not he bears any resemblance to the historical Thomas Cromwell.

ETA: "Bring Up the Bodies" could also get my vote for best book of the century so far.


message 28: by Fionnuala (new)

Fionnuala Kim wrote: "My view exactly, Fionnuala. Mantel made me totally believe in her Thomas Cromwell and I don't care whether or not he bears any resemblance to the historical Thomas Cromwell."

Oh yes, Kim - the conjuring of character here is very close to miraculous.


message 29: by Fionnuala (new)

Fionnuala Marita wrote: "Fionnuala, you correctly state that Mantel analyses. Your analysis is pretty much spot on too."

Isn't she just so adept at political analysis and at understanding the machinations of politicians/courtiers, Marita?
It's all so perfectly handled that I don't actually want to see a third volume appear - I find myself doubting that she can do it a third time...


message 30: by Jibran (last edited Jun 24, 2015 11:42PM) (new)

Jibran Very interesting the difference between regular historical fiction and Mantel's recreation of history through detailed analyses. I took it to mean that she does not take liberty with history to insert events that did not take place, just to add some spice to the narrative. Or..?

My knowledge of Henry No 8 or Cromwell comes from a couple of accidental films I have watched. I have the first installment Woolf Hall with me for some months. Haven't managed to open it so far. Is Woolf Wall as good as this one?


message 31: by Fionnuala (new)

Fionnuala Jibran wrote: "Very interesting the difference between regular historical fiction and Mantel's recreation of history through detailed analyses. I took it to mean that she does not take liberty with history to insert events that did not take place..."

I think Mantel sticks very close to the documented facts, Jibran, but because it's a novel and not history writing, she has to imagine daily scenes such as take place in everyone's lives, and into which she places the documented happenings, linking them with her own imagined ones where that turns out to be necessary. The way she differs from other documentarists of that period is the angle she takes on the facts such as they are known. Thomas Cromwell didn't have a great reputation in the history books, especially amongst Catholics, and Thomas More, the Lord Chancellor to Henry XIII, usually came off better - he has the status of saint in the Catholic Church. Mantel doesn't trick with what's known but she subtly shifts the camera so that the reader gets to see another side of the story. She does nothing to add spice to the narrative but cleverly draws out all the spice already there.
As to your question about Wolf Hall, the tone of the two novels is almost exactly the same - I experienced them as one long smooth novel.
There was a lot of criticism however of Wolf Hall for the way Mantel used the pronoun 'he'. Whenever the narrative focuses on Cromwell, and that's most of the time, she doesn't name him, just uses 'he'. This was a very powerful way of differentiating him in the third person narrative, making it almost a first person narrative, but the reader needed to pay close attention if the device was to work, because other characters could also be 'he'. It seems that many readers don't want to pay close attention and so she was slated for her subtlety. As a result, she named Cromwell more in the second book. That's the only major difference in the writing of both. As regards events covered however, Wolf Hall has to introduce Cromwell so gives some scenes from his childhood and youth while also covering a longer period in the history of Henry's affairs than Bring Up the Bodies which recounts simply the events of the summer of 1536.
Hope that helps...and doesn't put you right off!


message 32: by Jibran (new)

Jibran Fionnuala wrote: "Jibran wrote: "Very interesting the difference between regular historical fiction and Mantel's recreation of history through detailed analyses. I took it to mean that she does not take liberty with..."

That's great Fionnuala. Whets my appetite all the more. Thank you. The interpretive angling of events and characters to bring out a sense of the time and its conflicts is why I like reading historical fiction. And I think using the events of history to create a story of emotions, passions, loves, hatreds, beliefs - to recreate their humanity in other words - is why historical novels came about as separate from conventional history books with their linear, one-dimensional narrative. In any case, a tight rope novelists must tread between what is acceptably fictitious vs authentic history.


message 33: by BlackOxford (new)

BlackOxford Mantel's take on both Cromwell and Thomas More offended many with a sectarian axe to grind. I found both portrayals to be highly stimulating, if for no other reason than they revealed the subtle propaganda exerted by the incremental accumulation of historical prejudice.


message 34: by Fionnuala (new)

Fionnuala Yes, she placed her two fictional portraits very much in opposition to each other, as they must have been in reality; utter loyalty to Rome on the one hand, utter loyalty to his employer on the other.


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