Bring up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel: September 2012 book of the month
Mantel's previous novel, the Booker Prize-winning Wolf Hall, started with Cromwell's humble beginnings and meteoric rise through court, and captured the disaster of Henry's failing first marriage.
This electrifying, page-turning sequel has Cromwell at the height of his power and influence, and charts the downfall of Anne Boleyn. It is a fabulously famous story, yet Mantel manages to make it entirely new and fresh. Part of this is Cromwell's own uncertainty about how events might unfold and whether or not Anne is guilty: as one review puts it, 'his mind is a cauldron of what ifs'. But it is also the voices of the wives who illuminate the history, like portraits suddenly made flesh and reaching out of the frame.
There are fascinating factual tidbits of Tudor life alongside brilliantly imagined inner workings of the mind. As Anne's world falls apart and the court struggles with the manic unpredictability of Henry, Mantel sustains heart-thumping suspense, even though the outcome is known to us all.
Most gripping is the slow steady burn of Cromwell's character: a strangely seductive, Machiavellian, anti-heroic, self-made man. Mantel's abstracted narrative style, half observing from afar, half inside Cromwell's head, is highly original, beautifully descriptive and entirely real. The pink and grey colours of a dress remind Cromwell of the entrails of the friars who are hanging at Tyburn on his orders; Anne Boleyn's flirting tricks are instantly recognisable to a modern reader.
This is an exceptional, wonderful, revolutionary, exhilarating book that you deeply miss once finished. What a relief to know that another one will be on its way.
About Hilary Mantel
Hilary was born in Derbyshire, in 1952. She is the author of 12 books, including A Place of Greater Safety, Giving Up the Ghost, Beyond Black (shortlisted for the 2006 Orange Prize) and Wolf Hall (winner of the 2009 Man Booker Prize). In 2006, she was awarded the CBE.
You can read a more detailed biography of Hilary here.
Book club discussion: Wednesday 26 September, 9-10pm
This book club is taking a slightly different format to usual ie it won't be a live author webchat. Instead...
- Please post your questions to Hilary on the book club thread by Sat 15 Sept
- We will then send on your questions to Hilary
- And post her answers on the day of the book club discussion, Wed 26 Sept, 9-10pm, when we will discuss her answers and the book among ourselves.
If you'd like to get involved in the discussion you can buy a hardback copy of Bring up the Bodies here or if you would like to get started right away an e-book version of the novel is available here.