Will Byrnes's Reviews > Bring Up the Bodies

Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel
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it was amazing
bookshelves: books-of-the-year-2012, fiction, historical-fiction, literary-fiction

His whole career has been an education in hypocrisy. Eyes that once skewered him now kindle with simulated regard. Hands that would like to knock his hat off now reach out to take his hand, sometimes in a crushing grip. He has spun his enemies to face him, to join him: as in a dance. He means to spin them away again, so they look down the long cold vista of their years: so they feel the wind, the wind of exposed places, that cuts to the bone: so they bed down in ruins, and wake up cold.
Be careful what you wish for. Henry VIII was pining for the younger-than-his-current-wife Anne Boleyn. After getting his heart’s desire, which required him to take on the Catholic Church, one might imagine him speaking to Thomas Cromwell as Ollie might have said to Laurel, “Well, here’s another nice mess you’ve gotten me into!” nicely demonstrating an inability to accept any responsibility for his own actions. Of course, AB had gotten her heart’s desire as well, a nifty crown, plenty of staff, and she gets to headline at the palace. But pride, and not popping out a male heir, goeth before the fall, and well, the girl should have known. I mean H8 was not exactly a model hubby to his first wife. Why would she think he’d be any more loyal to her? Time for the head of household to summon Mister Fixit.

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Rafe Sadler and Stephen Gardiner

Looking for advice on ridding yourself of unwanted household pests? Running low on funds for your comfortable lifestyle? Need the occasional hard thump to the torso to get the old ticker restarted? Need to re-direct your reproductive efforts towards a more masculine outcome? Need to fend off potential assaults by enemies foreign and domestic? Why, call Mister Fixit (Yes, yes, I know there were no phones in 16th Century England, so summon Mr. Fixit. OK? Happy now? Jeez, some people). Thomas Cromwell, a man of modest origins who had risen to the highest position in the land, that did not absolutely require aristocratic genes, had already demonstrated a penchant for getting things done, by whatever means necessary. And so continues the tale, in book 2 of Hilary Mantel’s trilogy about Tudor England.

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Hilary Mantel

The end of Wolf Hall (You read Wolf Hall, right? If you haven’t, stop reading this now, and go get a copy. Read that and when you are done, feel free to return. What are you waiting for? Go! Scat!) was H8’s marriage to AB. The quest had come to the desired conclusion, and now they’re gonna party like it’s 1533. Not only had H8 succeeded in flipping the bird (a falcon in this case – see the badges below) to the RC, but he was engaged in swiping their stuff as well. Pope? We doan need no steenking Pope. Cromwell was the guy who had done most of the fixing. So everything should be fine now, right? Not so fast.

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Dueling Badges – Anne Boleyn’s and Catherine of Aragon’s - in case any are needed

AB is getting very full of herself but not, unfortunately full of a male heir, and there are younger ladies-in-waiting, you know, waiting. H8 has an eye problem. It wanders uncontrollably, in this instance to young, demure Jane Seymour. Of course there is the pesky business of clearing that obstruction from the royal path, and Mister Fixit is called in (sorry, summoned) to make it go away. Luckily for him he has his fingers in many administrative pies (you washed those fingers before inserting, right?) and is not shy about using his inside knowledge to achieve his boss’s goals. Cromwell also has an excellent network of spies (little birds?) sprinkled throughout the realm. Combine the two, make much of what was probably idle gossip, add a dollop or three of spite and voila. For good measure, TC takes particular pleasure in focusing his skills on those who had done dirt to his mentor, Cardinal Wolsey, ticking off each one as they succumb to his devilry. (Like a certain Stark lass ticking off her list of future targets at bedtime)

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The once and future – Catherine of Aragon and Jane Seymour

Was AB guilty of the crimes of which she was accused? Probably not. But as long as the folks in charge can get the people with weapons to do their bidding it does not much matter. There is no law, really, only power. Legal processes are often mere window dressing to the underlying exercise of big fish eating smaller fish, and sometimes spitting them out. The fiction of legality keeps the mass of smaller fish from chomping their much larger tormenters to bits. Sort of like now. See, people? It’s all perfectly legal.

Bring Up the Bodies is a masterful achievement, showing, step-by-step, how dark aims are orchestrated and achieved. In laying this out, Hilary Mantel also offers us a look at how the reins of power can be abused by the unscrupulous, and Thomas Cromwell is shown in his full unscrupulousness in this volume. He was gonna get these guys and when he saw his chance, he took it. Where Wolf Hall presented a more removed Cromwell, Bring Up the Bodies shows us Cromwell as more than a fixer, more than a technocrat. We get to see him as a monster, despite his supposed desire to make England more equitable for working people.

H8 is shown much more as a spoiled psycho-child in this volume. Whatever his intelligence, whatever his accomplishments, what we see of Henry here is primarily his boorishness, his childishness. I want what I want and I do not care who gets hurt, or even killed, so I can have it. I was reminded of the great Twilight Zone episode It’s a Good Life.

Mantel won a second Booker prize for this one, and it was well deserved. Not only do we get a very human look at a key period in Western history, but are blessed with Mantel’s amazing wit as manifested by her characters, and consideration of issues that transcend history, as well as a compelling episode of Survival: Tudor. It is an easier read than the first book, more engaging, if that is possible. If you have not seen the miniseries made from the combined volumes you really must. Hilary Mantel has brought out her best in Bring Up the Bodies, using her genius for historical fiction to make the old seem new again. You won’t lose your head if you don’t read this book, but you probably should.

Review posted – 5/22/15
Re-posted 5/24/19

Publication date – 5/8/2012

The final volume in the series, The Mirror and the Light, is due for release March 2020, according to the latest intel.

=============================EXTRA STUFF

My review of Wolf Hall

Links to the author’s personal, Twitter, Google + and FB pages

Excellent radio interview with Mantel by Leonard Lopate

A marvelous New Yorker magazine article looking at Mantel’s career

Great material here in another New Yorker article, Invitation to a Beheading, by James Wood

Why isn't Henry VIII fat and other Wolf Hall mysteries explained
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Reading Progress

May 3, 2015 – Started Reading
May 3, 2015 – Shelved
May 8, 2015 – Finished Reading
May 21, 2015 – Shelved as: books-of-the-year-2012
May 5, 2019 – Shelved as: fiction
May 5, 2019 – Shelved as: historical-fiction
May 5, 2019 – Shelved as: literary-fiction

Comments Showing 1-26 of 26 (26 new)

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message 1: by Joey (new) - added it

Joey I have read Wolf Hall, but I have still been looking for its part 2 at flea bookstores. Your review excites me more. ^^


Will Byrnes It's a pretty amazing read. Worth being excited for.


HBalikov Glad that I wasn't born into this era, Will. There were so many things/people to be wary of --- no matter if you were part of the masses or on the rise. Mantel provides a "not too hard to believe" world in which many characters (including our Thomas) grasp at opportunity and walk the tightrope to the next ring. Too many seem to believe they are in control, to their's and other's peril.


message 4: by Caroline (new)

Caroline I have this in my 'to read' pile although I almost don't want to begin reading it until Mantel has finished writing the final book in the trilogy. I adored Wolf Hall and her portrayal of Thomas Cromwell as a humane man. It will be interesting to see how she turns him into a monster.


Will Byrnes It is indeed


message 6: by Dustin (new) - added it

Dustin I hadn't heard of these books, but I just added Wolf Hall. Thank you, Will.


Will Byrnes They are a treat


message 8: by Gary (last edited May 23, 2015 02:11PM) (new) - added it

Gary  the Bookworm What a terrific review. I'm still recovering from watching the mini-series and I was thinking about just waiting for the next in the trilogy. I had some ambivalence about Wolf Hall, but you've convinced me that the banquet doesn't really begin until all the attention turns from Anne's womb to her head. I always admired the mini-series about Henry's six wives which aired back in the 1970's but Mantel takes us to a much darker place.


Hanneke Super review, Will. Loved it! I completely agree that this 2nd book had a different tone than Wolf Hall. The story is much more focussed and does not meander to side stories as Wolf Hall did. Of course, I did not mind that in the slightest but, like you also said, this one is a smoother read. I wish the 3rd book will be published soon. Can't wait to read it! I saw somewhere that it was delayed because Hilary Mantel is not in a very good health.


message 10: by Will (new) - rated it 5 stars

Will Byrnes I have no intel on when Mantel's third book will her ready. Her health issues are of relatively long standing, but it could well be that there is something more immediate going on. In addition, I imagine that all the attention she has been getting for the first two, and related involvements, have reduced the time she has available for writing.


Trish Will wrote: "I have no intel on when Mantel's third book will her ready. Her health issues are of relatively long standing, but it could well be that there is something more immediate going on. In addition, I i..."

Don't think it is her health, which seems to be better since she discovered she likes working on stage plays and TV productions. Think she has been very involved in those, and with her kind of writing there can be no distractions if one is to ever finish and keep the standards as high as the earlier two.


Hanneke Thanks, Trish. Now you mentioned that, I do recall reading about her stage play.


message 13: by Jeanette (last edited May 24, 2015 06:35AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jeanette For those of you who loved this excellent Mantel and need a non-fiction Tudor fix, I strong rec the following. The Children of Henry VIII by John Guy. What really happened to Arthur that killed him before he could act a husband? Why was Henry so fat and why did he have so many problems with dying babes, despite the number of pregnancies and action? What were his plans for Fitzhugh? How did the future of the monarchy and religious life parse with the picking of the Nannies and Tutors in their households? Lots more Cromwell, lots more Anne Boleyn. All of these more informed answers told from a research and forensics look at archival and artistic evidence. It was superb.


message 14: by Will (new) - rated it 5 stars

Will Byrnes Sounds like a fun read, thanks.


Trish Jeanette wrote: "For those of you who loved this excellent Mantel and need a non-fiction Tudor fix, I strong rec the following. The Children of Henry VIII by John Guy. What really happened to Arthur that killed him..."

Thanks for that, Jeanette. That's exactly where I was headed...into nonfiction.


Hanneke Thanks, Jeanette, for your excellent tip. I'll order it right away. I do love the Tudor period.


message 17: by Lynne (new) - added it

Lynne King An excellent review Will. However, I didn't like the book at all. I've tried several times and all to no avail. I believe that it is the writing style.


Trish Lynne wrote: "An excellent review Will. However, I didn't like the book at all. I've tried several times and all to no avail. I believe that it is the writing style."

Hi, Lynne. You might try downloading the audio from the library since that is the way it worked best for me.


message 19: by Sue (new) - rated it 5 stars

Sue Another excellent review, Will, and I love the extras you give us.


message 20: by Will (new) - rated it 5 stars

Will Byrnes Thanks, Sue


message 21: by Doseofbella (new)

Doseofbella Outstanding committment to detail. Love your reviews.


message 22: by Karen (new)

Karen Ng Big gap between this and Wolf Hall...getting ready for the third?


message 23: by Will (new) - rated it 5 stars

Will Byrnes Absolutely!


message 24: by Will (new) - rated it 5 stars

Will Byrnes Spam is not welcome here. GR support has been notified.


message 25: by Will (last edited May 28, 2019 09:22PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Will Byrnes The user and his "comments" have been removed. GR is very sensitive to spam.


message 26: by Urvi (new)

Urvi nice.


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