Monday, September 16, 2013

Bring Up the Bodies, Hilary Mantel

"Bring up the bodies!" the famous cry to bring the accused of London's Tower to stand trial, words uttered the days of Anne Boleyn's trial, as well as the cases of those accused of treason alongside her. Hilary Mantel won a second Man Booker in 2011 for this novel, steeping even greater anticipation upon a novel retelling such a dramatic turn of events; Henry VIII can not divorce a second wife yet would be rid of the tempestuous Anne Boleyn, despite the great lengths he resorted to in making her Queen of England. I will spare you more back story; yet Mantel breathes furious energy into a histoical moment that has become 'old hat' in modern fiction.

Mantel's characterizations are even more important in the follow up novel to Wolf Hall, as Anne's fiery personality goes under the microscope as the mousy Jane Seymour attracts the King's attentions. And so Thomas Cromwell is called in again, to make legal the parade of women it may take Henry to get a son, an heir to the throne. Tensions burn even hotter in this novel, and the pacing increases as Mantel tells this particular story with even more dialogue, relishing in the various personalities and their power-mongering ways. It makes for a more accessible read than Wolf Hall did, with less background and slow simmering, but all of the elegance in phrasing of the 
Master Cromwell shows his first signs of fear, as he knows that his loyalty to the King will not protect him from all of the ambitious courtiers, especially when he moves to put the grasping Anne aside the only resounding way possible: execution. 

The political witch hunt as Mantel portrays it may not have every last historical detail. It's an overwhelming chess board of names and titles, and I personally don't believe that Mantel's fiction loses any power or integrity by dropping some subtle elements of the history. Better to pace it just so, flesh out wholly what is represented, than become tedious, especially as so many have commented that they found Wolf Hall such work. 

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