Friday, August 10, 2012
Book Thoughts - Bring Up The Bodies by Hilary Mantel
published May, 2012
Synopsis from publisher:
Though he battled for seven years to marry her, Henry is disenchanted with Anne Boleyn. She has failed to give him a son and her sharp intelligence and audacious will alienate his old friends and the noble families of England. When the discarded Katherine dies in exile from the court, Anne stands starkly exposed, the focus of gossip and malice.
At a word from Henry, Thomas Cromwell is ready to bring her down. Over three terrifying weeks, Anne is ensnared in a web of conspiracy, while the demure Jane Seymour stands waiting her turn for the poisoned wedding ring. But Anne and her powerful family will not yield without a ferocious struggle. Hilary Mantel's Bring Up the Bodies follows the dramatic trial of the queen and her suitors for adultery and treason. To defeat the Boleyns, Cromwell must ally with his natural enemies, the papist aristocracy. What price will he pay for Anne's head?
First Impression - 7/30/12
I reviewed the prequel to this novel, Wolf Hall, in 2009, and had some issues with it. It was the first novel I'd read by Mantel, and her writing style was difficult for me to adjust to. Before I picked up this novel, I spent a little bit of time re-acquainting myself with her writing, and I'm glad I did - this time around, I'm enjoying her work much more. She again writes in the present tense, and again uses the somewhat ambiguous "he" whenever she refers to Cromwell, but I'm prepared for it this time, so it just seems quirky rather than irritating. This time around I'm also able to enjoy much of the humor that Mantel gifts Cromwell with - the dialogue itself has been a lot of fun to read. I feel like this might be a breakthrough for me and this author.
Second Thoughts - 8/5/12
I think Bring Up the Bodies is just an easier novel to read than its predecessor. Perhaps it is because Mantel has a much smaller period of time to cover, but her narrative seems tighter and her connection to her characters seems stronger. Mantel's Cromwell is a fascinating man - I think I like him, but I don't necessarily think he's a good guy. He is smart, though, and has learned what needs to be done to preserve himself - so I can certainly understand the many macinations he makes to secure his position with the king.
"What is the nature of the border between truth and lies? It is permeable and blurred because it is planted thick with rumour, confabulation, misunderstandings and twisted tales. Truth can break the gates down, truth can howl in the street; unless Truth is pleasing, personable and easy to like, she is condemned to stay whimpering at the back door." (p. 159)
I am enjoying Mantel's writing so much - she is skilled at her craft, and I am finding the novel a pleasure to read as well as a great story.
Last Word - 8/9/12
I feel like I know this story pretty well, but Mantel actually had me tense at the end - as though I wasn't completely aware of how Anne's story ended. I've long thought Thomas More an incredibly fascinating figure, and now I see Thomas Cromwell as his equal. I was completely engaged in his process as he methodically went about bringing down Anne and her companions - the who's and why's, the coersion and manipulation - and his reasons for every single move = all remarkable.
"Look, he says: once you have exhausted the process of negotiation and compromise, once you have fixed on the destruction of an enemy, that destruction must be swift and it must be perfect. Before you even glance in his direction, you should have his name on a warrant, the ports blocked, his wife and friends bought, his heir under your protection, his money in your strongroom, and his dog running to your whistle. Before he wakes in the morning, you should have the axe in your hand." (p. 351)
Such good writing, such an interesting character - still a bit distant, but an enjoyable read nontheless. Recommended - if you are interested in the series, I would almost start with this novel, and then go back and read the first, especially if (like me) you already know how it ends.
Source: review copy from publisher
MPAA rating: R for violence and adult situations
My rating: 8/10