Published: 2012 by Fourth Estate
My copy: bought on Kindle
Memorable quote: “Look, he says: 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 strong room and his dog running to your whistle. Before he wakes in the morning, you should have the axe in your hand.”
This novel really gave me an escapist focus and kept me sane during incredibly stressful week my husband and I were moving in to our new house. This is second book in what will become the trilogy that started with Wolf Hall, Mantel’s epic and engaging portrait of Tudor England the court of Henry VIII through the eyes of his Master Secretary Thomas Cromwell. And frankly it’s a masterpiece. Mantel’s writing has a dreamlike quality, punctuated with dazzling set-piece scenes that absolutely captivate, while her observations are shrewd, gripping and feel surprisingly fresh and modern for a retelling of one of the most famous periods in English history. This isn’t a bodice ripping sort of historical fiction, it’s the best kind of political thriller with much light to shed on today’s society.
While Wolf Hall chronicles the rise of the Boleyns, Bring Up the Bodies tells of Anne’s downfall. We all know the story, but Mantel paints on a wider canvas showing who else profits and falls along the way. Guilt is a major theme and as Cromwell notes at one point, many courtiers are guilty, though not always of the same crimes for which they are tried. Mantel’s Cromwell is a fascinating figure. Ruthless, yes but it’s hard not to respect him as a man who, from humble roots, has worked his way to power rather than being born into it. Cromwell is also a man who is very good at his job although his job is effectively getting the fickle and often childlike King what he wants, and his methods of doing so are often very far from admirable.
There’s a lot of hype about this new publication, but it fully deserves all those superlatives, and all the literary prizes it’s almost guaranteed to win. Read it! But read Wolf Hall first if you haven’t done so already.