Iset's Reviews > Bring Up the Bodies

Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel
Rate this book
Clear rating

's review

liked it
bookshelves: renaissance-age-1400-to-1650ce-fict

I jumped straight into Bring Up the Bodies after finishing Wolf Hall, such was my eagerness to dive back into Hilary Mantel’s Tudor England and, of course, sit on the shoulder of the inscrutable, enigmatic Thomas Cromwell as he led us through it. I’m afraid this review is much shorter than my review of Wolf Hall, because many of the points still apply from one to the other.

Mantel still prefers to overuse her third person pronouns rather than use her main character’s name, which in the previous book could get considerably confusing, however, towards the end of Wolf Hall she begins using “he, Cromwell…” a lot more, and it’s that form that she utilises in Bring Up the Bodies. It admittedly clears up a lot of potential confusion, but I stick by what I said in my review of Wolf Hall, that it renders the “he” altogether redundant and it’s a clumsy solution compared to the simplicity and clarity of just using a character’s name where appropriate!

Mantel’s strength is still her expansive knowledge of the English language, her storycraft in creating a compelling plot, and her attention to detail which bring the book alive. This attention to detail creates subtle characterisations, full of their own peculiar eccentricities and unique personalities. Mantel has show, don’t tell down to a fine art, letting her characters’ personalities grow and build up organically through their actions and speech – and, of course, Thomas Cromwell’s sardonic observations about them. My one disappointment with the characterisations has been that I think they could be even stronger, and that I feel Mantel adheres to stock stereotypes of the Boleyn family too much. Mantel had previously tempered her characterisations of the Boleyns by giving them a good dose of ambiguity, but now, in order to gear up for the big showdown, certain negative traits are exacerbated to adhere more closely to stereotype – such as Jane Parker’s unfeeling cruelty, and Anne Boleyn’s self-absorbed haughtiness. Mantel also omits the dispute between Anne and Cromwell over what should be done with the proceeds of the dissolution of the monasteries.

Other than that, I felt that Mantel created the downfall fairly well, getting into the nooks and crannies of just how it unfolded, dispelling certain myths about what happened, and, most importantly, leaving the truth ambiguous for the reader. Cromwell masterfully constructs his case against the Boleyns through hearsay and implication, and through his machinations weaves enough doubt to make it plausible that some of the other characters believe the truth of it. However, he never has any direct proof, and, tellingly, Cromwell himself studiously avoids answering a question put to him by his son about whether the people he arrests actually did what they are accused of. A whole dark undercurrent permeates proceedings, in which one feels that the truth is being meticulously suppressed, the accused damned if they speak out by Cromwell’s sharp wit turning against them anything that they might say. Though, I would have wished for the Boleyn clan to have been characterised with more subtlety and humanity. Two scenes were particularly striking – Cromwell’s conversation with Thomas Wyatt about justice in the realm, and Cromwell’s realisation of some change that has happened to him after all this. I thought this was a seminal moment, and moving – the spider caught in his own web; having constructed this mirage of half-truths and circumstantial interpretations, Cromwell can no longer cut to the truth like he used to, and finds his certainty obscured by the miasma he himself has created in the new climate in England.

Bring Up the Bodies segues between the tarnished glitter of the treacherous court and the busy day-to-day life of London, creating characters who inhabit these worlds who break out of the two-dimensional confines of the page and appear three-dimensional in the mind’s eye. Lacking in some points, particularly the technical construction and the portrayal of the Boleyns, but otherwise written with skill, richly detailed, and a compelling plot that drove me onwards towards the dreadful conclusion.

6 out of 10
45 likes · flag

Sign into Goodreads to see if any of your friends have read Bring Up the Bodies.
Sign In »

Reading Progress

January 22, 2012 – Shelved
January 22, 2012 – Shelved as: renaissance-age-1400-to-1650ce-fict
May 26, 2012 – Started Reading
May 27, 2012 –
page 8
1.95% ""These days are perfect. The clear, untroubled light picks out each berry shimmering in a hedge. Each leaf of a tree, the sun behind it, hangs like a golden pear. Riding westward in high summer, we have dipped into sylvan chases and crested the downs, emerging into that high country where, even across two counties, you can sense the shifting presence of the sea.""
May 27, 2012 –
page 8
1.95% ""In this part of England our forefathers the giants left their earthworks, their barrows and standing stones. We still have, every Englishman and woman, some drops of giant blood in our veins. In those ancient times, in a land undespoiled by sheep or plough, they hunted the wild boar and the elk. The forest stretched ahead for days.""
May 27, 2012 –
page 43
May 28, 2012 –
page 86
May 30, 2012 –
page 315
May 31, 2012 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-6 of 6 (6 new)

dateDown arrow    newest »

message 1: by Pam (new) - rated it 3 stars

Pam Do I need to read Wolf Hall first? I didn't realize this was a sequel and I just won it! No need for forgiveness : )

Iset If I had won it, I would have read Wolf Hall first, yes.

Belinda I am so pleased you mentioned the use of He said, he Cromwell... as it seemed a bit too contrived and clunky for me at times.

Lesley Was sorry that she felt she had to use 'He Cromwell' in this book, thought 'he' worked so well in 'Wolf Hall'.

message 5: by Nina (new) - rated it 1 star

Nina Chambers No kidding about the subject pronoun HE! I think Ms Mantel was in want of a good editor! Unnecessarily oblique & pronoun excess! I've spent the first 40 pages rereading way too many passages to elicit the correct HE to which she refers!

Lesley Liked the use of 'he' in WH, would have preferred that to continue. Read that too many people found it difficult.

back to top