Jason Furman's Reviews > Bring Up the Bodies

Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel
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's review
Jun 03, 2012

it was amazing
bookshelves: fiction, novel
Read from May 31 to June 04, 2012

More enjoyable, more emotionally gripping, and more readable than Wolf Hall. Equally well written, unique and immersive. But somehow just a little more conventional and less interesting. But if you have not read Wolf Hall, Bringing up the Bodies works perfectly fine as a standalone book--you'll just need to reference the Cast of Characters slightly more often than readers of the previous book would have to.

Bringing Up the Bodies is much more focused than Wolf Hall, covering an eight month period and focused around a single drama: the King's souring on Anne Boleyn, starting to fall for Jane Seymour, the gathering of evidence and eventual downfall, trial and execution of Anne and a number of other members of her household. All of this takes on uniqueness and interest through the eyes of the ambitious, ruthless and highly skilled Thomas Cromwell (although again in the slightly-less-annoying this time around third person) who, conveniently for this book, is present for virtually every event of importance in the narrative. Once again watching a commoner manipulate nobles through a combination of his greater financial savvy, psychological acuity, and ability to divide and conquer, is almost endlessly interesting.

Like Wolf Hall, Bringing Up the Bodies is a historical recreation, based on what seems to be careful research and a thoughtful attempt to stick as closely as possible to a plausible version of the story, refracted through Cromwell's eyes. As such, it is worlds apart from the detached, postmodern and non-omniscient narration of HHhH.

As for the way in which Wolf Hall was better, one is just the natural tendency to want to think anything that long must be proportionately good. But it also had a greater and looser variety of incidents, covering a longer period of time and showing Cromwell in more varied settings (as a boy, as a protege of Cardinal Wolsey, and skillfully surviving Wolsey's death to rise in his own right). In a way, Wolf Hall felt more like a loose baggy monster to Bringing Up the Bodies more focused novel, but there is something enjoyable about a well crafted loose baggy monster.

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