Book Review: Bring Up The Bodies

Bring Up The Bodies

by Hilary Mantel

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This is a review I’ve been meaning to post for some time now. Even if you haven’t read Wolf Hall, the first in this (what promises to be a) trilogy, Bring up the Bodies is an excellent read. Perfect for your summer holidays! I thought Wolf Hall was fantastic, but the sequel was much easier to get into at the beginning, and focussed immediately on the court of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn. I enjoyed it immensely.

Hilary Mantel takes you back to the early sixteenth century, when Henry VIII still hasn’t had a legitimate son to succeed him on the throne of England. The death of his first wife, Katherine of Aragon, and the “imprisonment” of his daughter Mary, later to become Queen Mary, coincide with the increasing discomfort within the royal court at Anne Boleyn’s behaviour. At the head of this, advising the king and controlling all the strings it seems, is Thomas Cromwell. Cromwell’s political deeds and manipulations are revealed with exquisite detail. In fact, despite clearly using a lot of imagination and fantasy, Mantel sticks to details such as dates and places with fastidious precision.

As the book progresses England’s isolation from the Catholic Church becomes clearer and the fate of the monasteries is hinted at. With this backdrop, the future of Henry’s monarchy is considered to be at risk and an heir is the absolute priority. Henry is by this time besotted with Jane Seymour. Cromwell’s role here is to ensure that Anne is removed from the throne legally, so that Jane may be accepted as the new Queen, while at the same time various families and connections useful to his and the king’s own future are secured. He is a genius. And yet somehow we suspect that as his net is spun, he may also fall victim to his own cunning plans… in fact we may even begin to wish he does…

Extremely well written and powerfully compelling to the last page. Different to other historical novels, I feel – as you are drawn into the dialogues and characters so genuinely and transported immediately into the court of Henry and into Cromwell’s head. I am now hoping the third novel will be out soon. And will it remain at a trilogy? I thoroughly recommend this book, and if you have the time to read Wolf Hall first, all the better, but not a necessity.

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By the way, Hilary Mantel won The Man Booker Prize for both these novels, making her the first woman to win the prize twice.

39 thoughts on “Book Review: Bring Up The Bodies

  1. Cathy, this is a compelling review. I’ll have to check out the book as I love historical novels. Thanks for including it. Makes me encouraged to see a ‘garden’ blogger go outside the genre to write about other things. If you have a chance, please check out our recent barging experience in Europe–you may have some thoughts to share on barging in your neck of the woods. I’d love to hear if you know about that. Thanks! Susan

    • Hello Susan Glad you liked the review. I’m afraid I don’t know anything about barging holidays in Germany. Although we live directly on the Main-Rhine-Danube canal we don’t see holiday barges, only transport boats and cruises.

  2. My book club read Wolf Hall recently and though the history was interesting, only a few of us really loved the book. But after spending so much time with Cromwell I do find myself curious and your great review may spur me to continue on. Thanks!

    • I think this second volume was even better than the first, and a friend of mine who also read it has said exactly the same, so perhaps you’ll give it a try.

    • The title is very apt and even though we know all the time that Anne Boleyn’s days are numbered, Mantel takes us through the politics and dealings leading up to her demise so wonderfully.

    • Hi Julie. It was an enjoyable read, but I must confess it was early spring when I read it, so I was snuggled up indoors most of the time! 😉

  3. I’m really interested in these books! I love introductions to new authors and with historical fiction, always prefer a personal review. I’ve read so many that were wonderful and a few that really weren’t. 🙂 These sound like excellent reads. I’ll put them on my list! Great review, by the way!

    • Thanks Debra! This really is top class stuff, and it has recently been reviewed on a book club TV programme too where they are usually rather critical…. they all raved about it! Hope you enjoy it!

  4. I loved both these books. Can’t wait for the third. Also worth reading while waiting for the next instalment is Philippa Gregory’s The Other Boleyn Girl. Set in the same era and is told from the perspective of the ladies in waiting.

    • Hi there! I saw a film version of that book and was a little disappointed, but the book is probably better – thanks for the tip. I just felt that Mantel’s writing is a notch above the rest, but then I don’t often go for historical fiction anyway. 😉

      • I know what you mean. If I truly love a book I try not to watch the movie.I’m often disappointed. We read The Other Boleyn Girl for our book group many years ago before either of Hilary’s books were published.

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