Diane's Reviews > Bring Up the Bodies

Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel
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's review
Sep 08, 2012

really liked it

I admit to being an Anglophile. In fact, when I was young (oh, forty years or so ago)I read a lot of historical fiction. Though I was a young girl then, still looking for Mr. Right, I guess stories of princesses and queens and their courts and their gowns and their jewels were as close as I could get to reading romances. Just don't like romances..

I stopped reading historical fiction a long time ago though and have no particular desire to read from that genre any longer. But Hilary Mantel's stories, now that's another matter.

What a researcher this author is! Both this book and her first one, "Wolf Hall" are absolute troves of historical detail that all of us, with the possible exception of current high school students and history teachers, have forgotten (or never heard). In this tale, the second of her series centered on the life of England's Thomas Cromwell, the author continuously sprinkles small, juicy, easy-to-read tidbits about ALL of her character's lives - and it takes lots of characters to tell this story. Without ever once losing her direction, she writes about the women and men of Henry's court, presenting their strengths and foibles in such fascinating ways that effortlessly, we come to know them and can almost predict their actions. Almost, because they will still surprise us.

Historical accuracy is important, but mostly my kudos to Ms. Mantel because she is such a writer. I admit that I was initially somewhat put off by the way she handles dialog and thoughts in her story. Single quotes around dialog, no breaks between direct quotes and accompanying thought. She uses "he" so much without changing paragraphs that she repeatedly has to make herself clear by saying things like, "he, Thomas Cromwell" in her sentences. But a little less than halfway through "Bring Up the Bodies" I realized I no longer noticed the presence of that device and admitted to myself that 1) there were lots of characters with dialog and most of them were men and 2)this writing seemed to go with the time in which it was set and it helped keep me on my toes. As was her intention, as I read along, becoming more familiar with each person, I could tell who was saying what anyway. By her writing style, Ms. Mantel gives us, her readers, credit for being bright and for paying attention and then she earns that attention by rewarding us with a beautifully told story.

And she provided the non-historical detail by the page full. Things she couldn't have known for absolute sure, and, as far as I can tell, doesn't pretend to.

It's uncanny how human and logical her Sir Thomas Cromwell sounds as we follow his thought process. After all, his real life history included the heartlessly cruel engineering of the downfall of at least two of Henry's wives (and their children). He was singularly instrumental in providing, usually through intimidation and bribery, "proof" for "crimes" that resulted in much death for his enemies and Henry's, usually by the horrific method of beheading. We forget all of that as we read because it seems we know another side of this man.

As we do today, Ms. Mantel's characters make fascinating observations of their children and other people's children. Characters' commentary on women's dresses, those in certain colors and styles, spoke volumes about both the wearers and the observers. Depending on whose side one was on, Henry's courtiers heaped both admiration and rebuke upon each other; people who dared to express themselves through insolent head tosses and such. Yes, Many fine details that added depth and color.

You won't really notice what's true and what can't-be-known-to-be-true as you are reading. I found I didn't mind and you won't either because the author's story brings these long-dead people, and their children, and their sisters and brothers, and their servants, to life for us. Ms. Mantel's book turns this historical few weeks, a time filled with tragedy and violence, into a tale about people we know and care about. What a flare she has for mixing historical characters with warm prose thereby bringing a people and a period of time to life.

We can always read the nuts and bolts of this fascinating period of English history in non-fiction writings - and I did after reading this book because once I read this much I wanted to know even more. But I understand Ms. Mantel is planning a third book and I certainly look forward to another walk through sixteenth century England with her. I recommend you read "Wolf Hall," "Bring Up the Bodies" and whatever she blesses us with next.

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