The All Thats Left Book Club #3: Bring Up The Bodies, Hilary Mantel

by Ray_North on February 25, 2013

UnknownAfter Hillary Mantel’s most recent award – no, not the Man Booker, the prestigious All That’s Left Hero of the Week Award, I was prompted to finally getting round to penning a few words about her most recent book, Bring Up The Bodies.

It’s a review I’ve been meaning to do for a while, but have succesfully avoided, because, quite frankly, I an unworthy to write about Ms. Mantel’s work. As a would be writer of fiction myself (new book out January 2014, Harper Collins, more, unsubtle plugs nearer the time), I am strictly a journeyman Wrexham centre-half compared to Ms. Mantel, who in my analogy, sits majestically, orchestrating the Barcelona attack.

Bring Up The Bodies is the second in her trilogy about Thomas Cromwell – the first book, Wolf Hall, was a magnificent piece, charting the desperate and incredible way in which Cromwell dragged himself from the obscurity of being a Blacksmith’s son, into the position of Cardinal Wolsey’s trusted lieutenant, then, after Wolsey’s demise, into the Court of Henry VIII, to sit at his right hand, as Treasurer of the King’s Council.

Wolf Hall ends with Henry’s divorce of Catherine of Aragon and marriage to Anne Boleyn, and Bring Up The Bodies, picks up the narrative (and what a narrative), as Henry is tiring of Annne and falling for the ‘plain’ Jane Seymour.

It is an outstanding piece of work – as authentic a study on the psychology of men, and in particular men who lust for power, as you could find – every nuance of Cromwell’s, and through him Henry’s behaviour is fantastically detailed from their fears, their sexual urges, right through to the brutal desire for revenge which Cromwell harbours, then systematically dishes out to those who he holds responsible for betraying Wolsey.

At first blush, Cromwell comes out of the book with his reputation enhanced, when he is given the job of ‘ending’ the marriage between Henry and Anne Boleyn, he goes about his task with a certain subtlety and great skill, managing to nudge out a confession from one of the men accused of having an affair with the Queen, and enough of an admission from two others to ensure that when the Queen is tried for treason, there is no doubt about the verdict. Written very much from Cromwell’s point of view, but not in first person, initially, he seems like a very capable and loyal and charming servant, with, at times, an almost avuncular disposition, but, and herein lies the genius of Mantel’s work, actually, upon closer observation, the morality of his work is far more ambiguous and lurking beneath the character of Cromwell there is a man with a snake like past who is capable of intellectual and emotional hate and is prepared to use all his skills to obtain whatever he must in the pursuit of those he feels has wronged him or are a threat to him.

It is a worthy winner of the Booker and a book which anyone aspiring to understand anything about the psyche of politicians or would-be leaders would do well to read, because Hilary Mantel nails it.

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