Heather's Reviews > Bring Up the Bodies

Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel
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bookshelves: literary-novels, addictive

I feel stingy giving this only 3 stars, because it is a really excellent book in its own right. But it fell short of the wondrous originality and complexity of Wolf Hall... I missed the mythic-mystic dimension and the sense of a society on the cusp between "medieval" and "Renaissance". Thomas Cromwell doesn't have the same rich character arc that he had in Wolf Hall: he's on top and he stays on top. And King Henry doesn't struggle against the same array of opponents in this book, he just decides to do what most everybody has been wanting him to do all along.

Above all I think I was frustrated that Mantel was so scrupulous about the historical record. She never takes a stand on any of the charges against Anne: did Anne ever love Henry? was she capable of love, or only ambition? did she sleep with other men? or was it just spiteful gossip exaggerating her narcissistic need for male attention? what happened between Anne and her brother? between her and Percy? between her and Mark Smeaton? Because the whole story is told from Cromwell's point of view, we can't know what Anne did, and to Cromwell it doesn't matter - it only matters what he can convict her of. So there's a coldness to it. I like that this isn't a sentimental "Anne of the 1000 Days" version, but it overcompensates and keeps Anne at too much of a distance.

Honestly I wanted some more critical perspective on Anne's misery... even though she was a narcissistic bitch and a schemer, she was also a tragic vic tim of (dare I say) patriarchy... all her beauty and cunning and intelligence and ambition weren't worth a hill of beans when her body failed to produce a son. That she thought she had lots of cards in the game, but really only the ONE card mattered, and she didn't have it so she lost.

I would have liked a richer and more imaginative portrait of Jane Seymour, too... Mantel presents her as almost asexual, which is fascinating, I've never seen it in a historical novel! But again, she is remote and pretty inscrutable to Cromwell, so she remains remote to the reader as well.
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Reading Progress

Started Reading
June 30, 2012 – Finished Reading
July 12, 2012 – Shelved
July 12, 2012 – Shelved as: literary-novels
July 12, 2012 – Shelved as: addictive

Comments Showing 1-9 of 9 (9 new)

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Philip Glennie You give some really great insights here. I also had some reservations about the book, finding the writing incredible, yet the character arcs almost a little repetitive of those in Wolf Hall. I hadn't considered the cusp between "medieval" and "Renaissance"; but now that you've pointed it out, I totally agree! This post really helps me articulate some of the things I felt about the book, and that's what reviews are all about. Thanks!

Христо Блажев At last I found someone that does not think this book is so great. Great review and lets hope third part will be much better.

Susan Van Metre "That she thought she had lots of cards in the game, but really only the ONE card mattered, and she didn't have it so she lost." Well said.

Glynis Agreed.

carlageek I agree entirely. The book lacks the richness and complexity and dimensionality of Wolf Hall. Kinda disappointing. :(

Justin I agree, down to the 3/5 rating.

David P Although you do see Cromwell falter and make compromises, setting it all up very nicely for the final instalment. Perhaps this book only suffers because it is the middle section of his overall arc.

Heather Now that I'm in love with Mark Rylance (Cromwell in the BBC adaptation), and have "spoiled" the story by googling Cromwell's ultimate fate, I'm living in DREAD of the third book. I seriously don't know if I will want to read it. And so many of his successes in the first 2 books now seem fraught with irony...
I wish he could have ended up like old Henry Wyatt, bearing his scars and terrible memories but living into a well-appreciated old age. *SNIFF*

Diane Dabczynski I agree with David P. I think Cromwell is portrayed on the rise in Wolf Hall and at his highest in this book and because it is the middle of a trilogy (and we know from history what his fate is) the third book will see his downfall.

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