David's Reviews > Bring Up the Bodies

Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel
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it was amazing
bookshelves: read-in-2012

The normally flinty James Wood recently wrote what can only be characterized as an extended mash note to Hilary Mantel in the New Yorker, based on this book and its predecessor, Wolf Hall. I can only concur, and add a few observations of my own.

How good is this book? It's so good that
(i) I am trying to ration myself to only 50 pages a day, to spin out the experience of reading it just that little bit longer
(ii) I am failing miserably in objective (i) above, because I am an undisciplined wretch, completely lacking in self-control, and I just can't help myself
(iii) I call people up on the other side of the Atlantic, just to read them choice sentences
(iv) I feel impelled to share a few of those sentences with you

Thomas Cromwell is attempting to sway the deposed queen Katherine of Aragon and says something to incite her displeasure:

"There is a pause, while she turns the great pages of her volume of rage, and puts her finger on just the right word"

of one of Anne Boleyn's ladies-in-waiting:

"If someone said to Lady Rochford, 'It's raining,' she would turn it into a conspiracy; as she passed the news on, she would make it sound somehow indecent, unlikely, but sadly true."

I'm not sure if James Wood actually went as far as to say that he would be happy to read Hilary Mantel's grocery list. But, based on the quality of the writing in the "Wolf Hall" books, I would.
You wouldn't think it possible to tell the story of the Tudors and make it fresh. But Mantel succeeds once again, brilliantly.

Added on edit after finishing:

The last 50 pages of this are frightening, and frighteningly good. James Wood offers far more insight into what he calls Mantel's "novelistic intelligence", also on the topic of "authenticity" (where he makes a compelling case that fiction can offer a kind of authenticity that actually surpasses historical accuracy) than I ever could (though I found myself agreeing with everything he wrote, and the examples he cites are the same ones I would cite), so here is a link to his review -- I think it is accessible even in you don't have a New Yorker subscription.

Wood on Mantel

And finally, a note from Hilary Mantel, promising future delights.

".... Thomas Cromwell, who is still in need of attention from biographers. Meanwhile, Mr Secretary remains sleek, plump and densely inaccessible, like a choice plum in a Christmas pie; but I hope to continue my efforts to dig him out".

Bonne continuation, Mme Mantel, bonne continuation !!
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Reading Progress

May 18, 2012 – Started Reading
May 18, 2012 – Shelved
May 20, 2012 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-17 of 17 (17 new)

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Anne Agreed. This is what I like best about the Wolf Hall books--how even though I feel like I know the Tudor story backwards and forwards (due to a somewhat unfortunate Other Boleyn Girl obsession in high school), Mantel makes me feel like I'm discovering something new.


Mary When you gush about a book, David, I add it to my 'to read' list directly!


David Aw shucks, thanks, Mary!


Jane I barely contained myself to 100 pages a day. I just couldn't stop.


Rhonda My version of your 50 pp/day is two paragraphs forward, one back; repeat. "If Wolsey wanted Norfolk he would lie quiet inside a table top, breathing along the grain of the wood; he would ooze through a keyhole, or flop down a chimney with a soft flurry like a soot-stained dove." Yikes! I feel like I've never seen good writing before.


Michael Agree completely with review- loved "volume of her rage" sentence. Stayed up late, ignored chores and finished in 2 days!


Hilariapdx Hilary Mantel is so gifted. I savored each word of both Cromwell books and yet remain certain i could start all over to discover more nuance, wit and depth. Thanks, Hilary.


Donna I've been reading these because if the same New Yorker review. It was what he said and the quotes. I couldn't get my hands on these books fast enough once I read the quotes. I have been rationing to no avail. I'm using them up much too fast but that's true about second readings.


Cecily Jones Oh, the extraordinary power of Mantel's prose.

Here is Mantel on Stephen Gardiner.

"When Stephen comes into a room, the furnishings shrink from him. Chairs scuttle backward. Joint-stools flatten themselves like pissing bitches. The woollen Bible figures in the king's tapestries lift their hands to cover their airs."

I love how Mantel dispenses with conventional efforts to describe Gardiner's dark character, but instead uses the terrified reactions of the very furniture to convey his demonic character.

I have now read Wolf Hall three times. After purchase, I waited for nearly nine months before I could bring myself to read BUTB. The torment of delayed gratification was almost beautiful.. But once I'd read this, straight back I went to WH, and then onto my second reading of BUTB. It is wonderful to me how it is possible to find so much that was missed in the first and second readings.


message 10: by Abhishek (new) - added it

Abhishek H i have not read wolf hall and bring up the bodies, which is better, do i get everything in br up bodies without reading wolf hall ???


David You should read both. If you start with BUTB you will want to go back and read WH anyway.


message 12: by Chris (new)

Chris My book club is planning on reading this next month...Do I need to read Wolf Hall first?


Deborah Messin Chris you don't need to read Wolf Hall first to get the best out of reading BUTB but you are depriving yourself of an excellent read if you don't at some stage. BUTB is not a patch on WH but is worth reading though it took me till half way through to be hooked. WH had me captured from the first page and remains one of my favourite all time books.


Paulette Rationing! So glad to hear I am not alone in my craziness. Two years to the final book in the trilogy!


message 15: by Bgs (new) - rated it 5 stars

Bgs Just read as you please, when you get to the end simply start again, that worked for me!


message 16: by Lisa (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lisa Chemberlin Brilliant review of a brilliant set of books. You are so right about the writing. I have been stopped in my tracks, jaw agape at too many sentences and passages to count. I so enjoy Cromwell's sarcasm. There is one sentence in particular I like to use in real life, "The fluid of benevolence runs through my veins and often overspills." I'll be sad when it's over. I'm just over halfway through Bring Up the Bodies.


message 17: by J (new)

J Thomas Agree, agree with those here - brilliant writing. The last books I liked this much, hated to end was Herman Wouk's War & Remembrance and Winds of War.


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