Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel charts the political exploits of Thomas Cromwell, right-hand man to King Henry VIII. In contrast to Mantel’s Man Booker Prize winning novel Wolf Hall—which begins in Cromwell’s childhood and ends well into his middle age—her follow-up novel takes place within the few years of Anne Boleyn’s reign as Queen of England. Cromwell created many enemies during his rapid rise in the service of the King, and he schemes throughout the novel to maintain his position, secure his future, and bring down his enemies.
Some readers may be familiar with other portrayals of Henry VIII, Anne Boleyn, and Thomas Cromwell, but Mantel’s perspective on Tudor England is refreshing and unique. Thomas Cromwell—a villain in many depictions—is portrayed as an honest, hard-working underdog in Bring Up the Bodies. Cromwell observes: “The things you think are the disasters in your life are not the disasters really. Almost anything can be turned around: out of every ditch, a path, if you can only see it.” In many ways, Cromwell’s optimism and distinctive perspective temper his connivances; and the reader cannot help but root for him.
Additionally, Bring Up the Bodies raises interesting questions concerning the way historical events are remembered and retold. “What is the nature of the border between truth and lies? It is permeable and blurred because it is planted thick with rumour, confabulations, misunderstandings, and twisted tales.” This observation applies just as well to Cromwell’s political dealings and may be viewed as one of the novel’s unifying themes. As a work of historical fiction, Mantel’s Bring Up the Bodies is so convincing that it is further evidence of the border between truth and lies.
Even though I knew how the novel would end, I was often surprised by the twists and turns it took. More than anything else, I think Bring Up the Bodies simply displays fantastic writing. The characters are well-developed, and the story is perfectly crafted. Bring Up the Bodies is a must read whether or not you consider yourself a fan of historical fiction.
You can read an excerpt here.
Title: Bring Up the Bodies
Author: Hilary Mantel
Page Nos.: 432
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.
Release Date: May 8, 2012
Reviewer: Preston Gardner