Join us to discuss Hilary Mantel's Bring Up The Bodies, our September Book of the Month, Wednesday 26 September, 9-10pm(139 Posts)
Our September book club choice, BRING UP THE BODIES, is shaping up to be The Book of 2012. It is Hilary Mantel's electrifying, pageturning second volume in her planned trilogy of Tudor novels, voiced by the master manipulator Thomas Cromwell. A sequel to the Booker Prize winning WOLF HALL, the story starts with Cromwell at the height of his power and influence, and Anne Boleyn beginning to lose hers. It is a fabulously famous story, yet Mantel manages to make it entirely new and fresh. Reading such expertly written historical fiction is a double delight: 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 familiar to us all. But most gripping is the slow steady burn of Cromwell's character: an entirely bewitching, strangely seductive, Machiavellian, anti-heroic, self-made man. Mantel's abstracted narrative style, half observing from afar, half inside Cromwell's head, is a miracle: highly original, beautifully descriptive and entirely real. 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.
The book of the month page with more detail about Bring Up The Bodies is now live. You can also get a Kindle edition or a hardback copy of the novel here
We are thrilled that Hilary will be answering questions about BRING UP THE BODIES, her previous novels and her writing career in an emailed Q&A. So please put all your questions up here by 15 September, and we will send them on to Hilary. We'll publish Hilary's answers and discuss the book amongst ourselves on Wednesday 28 September, 9-10pm.
Hope you can join us...
Just wanted to say to Hilary Mantel that I adored Wolf Hall, thank you for sharing your incredible talent
I have read both books in hard copy and loved them but was blown away by the audiobooks. The narration in both is superb.
I am interested in how
he Cromwell is portrayed as having so very little romantic interest in women. He briefly is attracted to Jane Seymour, Mary Boleyn, etc but his interest is over almost before it begins.
Is this portrayal designed to emphasise how controlled he is in every aspect of his life or do you feel that he was not terribly interested in women romantically? Or is it something else?
Can't wait for vol 3, even though I know he has to die.....
I was lucky enough to receive a copy of this wonderful novel from Mumsnet and had not been able to put it down until it was finished. So many scenes still live in my head,even smaller scenes like Henry falling asleep at the table in Wolf Hall and Jane Seymour briskly tapping his hand...Above all Thomas Cromwell's image is in my head,and somehow he doesn't look like the Holbein portrait! What image was in your head as you wrote the book,what sort of face did you see?
Will you, like Henry, miss him when he's gone? What do like best about him and eat do you like least?
Hilary I have just discovered that you grew up in the same village as me - although our paths never crossed as I went to H school.
I am an avid reader of historical fiction - I just love it but I am wondering how and why you came to be so interested in it too. H & G are not exactly famed for their Tudor connections !
I was really struck by the contrast between the healthy, cooperative atmosphere of Austin Friars, with merchants coming in and out, the loyal team of Rafe etc. supporting Cromwell, where everyone knows their place and value, and the poisonous atmosphere of Henry's court.
Did you want the reader to pick up on this and see Cromwell as an alternative, better leader, as the start of the modern state, based on merit, not birth?
... and on the topic of Cromwell as a political leader, when you have Cromwell pondering the possibilities of aiding the poor by strengthening the state's role in the economy, on the back of expenditure made possible by extracting money from the monasteries, do you envisage those as thought-processes that might actually have been likely among Tudor political actors? Or was that a (very pleasing) literary strategy for referencing our current politics? I wondered if you were possibly having a bit of fun by representing some of Cromwell's thought process about the economy in deliberately quite anachronistic terms?
He is shown as wanting to cause the monasteries to let go of their piles of cash so that money could flow into the economy and fund Keynesian-style infrastructure-building projects. It occurred to me that you were deliberately planting comparisons in our mind with modern-day banker fat cats who have to be "persuaded," to release money into the real economy of industry (rather than hording it for the purposes of financial/metaphysical speculation!), so that dissolution of the monasteries becomes something like a Tudor equivalent of quantitative easing. I enjoyed that!
Here's my question: have you considered doing Oliver Cromwell next?
I've loved your work since Fludd, and was particularly grateful for the timing of Bring Up the Bodies, which saved me from a bout of post-natal horrors which caused me to temporarily forget how to read.
I have a couple of questions, if that's OK.
You've said in interviews that you don't understand why some writers write the same books over and over again - did Bring Up the Bodies feel like a completely different novel to Wolf Hall as a writing experience, despite all their obvious similarities? And likewise the final instalment?
How do you make the leap from historical research, reading biographies etc of your 'real' Tudor characters, to making them live as much as the characters you've invented from scratch? Is there an imaginative process you follow from, say, the recorded facts about a 'real' character to making those facts come to life in the imagined life of your novel?
(I never have any sense at all in WH or BUtB of the research weighing heavily on the fictional world, or thought 'What an odd incident - she must have put that in because it's true.' )
Cheekily - final question. Is part of the appeal of writing about Cromwell his sheer ultra-competence and success at everything from cookery to languages to statecraft? Assuming (hoping!) you are at work on the final novel, are you finding it difficult or enjoyable, to depict his eventual 'failure'?
I have to begin with excessive gushing compliments - Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies are astonishingly good novels. Amazing freshness and originality. Hope you will win Booker Prize in Oct.
I have a question (ok, questions!) about the mechanics of crafting your novels. I found in Bring Up the Bodies that the scene where Cromwell interviews Mark Smeaton changed the mood of the book and suddenly Cromwell did appear a much darker and more ruthless figure, easily capable of systematically destroying the men who brought down Wolsey. How do you create the tension and deliver it at just the right moment? Did you create lots of character scenes and juggle them around the historical framework or was it a more organic process where everything grew together? You note that some historians read and commented on WH while it was in development - what was the most useful contribution you received?
And a personal question if I may - when you have finished a book do you mark/celebrate the occasion?
Is 28th September a Wednesday? Or am I still suffering from baby brain?
Argh. The webchat is Wednesday 26 September. Many, many apologies - I don't know how the date got muddled up there. Please adjust your diaries accordingly...
Thank you to everyone for their excellent questions - I have sent them to Hilary and we will post her answers on the discussion night. Which is, of course, Wednesday 26 September 9-10pm.
I'd steered away from historical things but your writing got me. When you write a sentence that works do you know it at once or later?
I've just finished BUTB and I did enjoy it - I think! I read it straight after Wolf Hall and I have to confess to finding them a challenging read - definitely couldn't manage to keep up my usual speed as there is so much to absorb. If I'm honest, I'm not sure about the use of the 'he.....Cromwell' - at times I really got on with it and at other times I didn't. But, I loved the story, the way court life and the constant manoevering for position is brought to life. As for Cromwell himself? I guess like us all he's a mixture of good and bad and I think I might be a little bit in love with him.........though I don't think I should be! Is he the bad guy? Or the good guy? Or does he just do what he needs to survive? Brilliant characterisation!
Ms Mantel is a terrific writer. I loved Wolf Hall [+ all her other books] and am halfway through 'Bodies' right now. I'll enjoy reading tomorrow's discussion even if I can't come up with a decent question
Hilary's answers have arrived and they are brilliant. Of course.
We'll post them up tomorrow night, 9pm and then continue to discuss the book afterwards. Doesn't matter which books you have/haven't read and whether you asked a question or not, everyone very welcome, the more the merrier.
See you all soon..
See you at 9pm. (Please tech, will you be on emergency standby? Thanks.)
How exciting! I absolutely LOVED both Wolf Hall and Bring up the Bodies, brilliant brilliant writing - I was bereft when I had finished them!
So, it'll be a little different tonight. We don't have our author here with us, but we have Hilary's answers ready to go and will start posting them (using a pseudo-Hilary login) straight away. And meanwhile, its a free-for-all on BRING UP THE BODIES: what you felt, what you loved, what you couldn't get out of your head, and what you think about Hilary's explanations and illuminations.
Before we begin replying to messages in Hilary's name, I'll kick off with the standard Mumsnet questions and her answers, then away we go...
What childhood book most inspired you?
Stories about King Arthur and his knights. People ask me if I always wanted to be an author and I have to explain that I intended to be a knight when I grew up.
What is the first piece of advice you would give to anyone attempting to write fiction?
There is a story only you can write, but be patient with it and patient with yourself. You cant bully it into being.
Loved both of these books.
In terms of research did Hillary go back and review the primary sources - how did she get inside the head of Thomas Cromwell ?
Does Hillary think that Jane Seymour is more intelligent than we are lead to believe ?
I go back as far as I can, and read as widely as I can, but I have no secret cache of documents. Im not a trained historian and dont do original research, but its essential to get back to the sources where you can, rather than take the word of historians or biographers. I cast my net widely and Im quite prepared to read a whole book for one fact or one image. As sources I count pictures and music as well as the written word, poems as well as polemics. I think that to get inside a characters head you have to know as much as you can about the context in which they live. Its not just the obvious things, like what do they wear and what do they eat; you have to ask what formed them, who have they met and what have they seen and, in any given situation, what details would strike them; what would they like, what would annoy them, what would they take for granted and what would strike them as new? For example, having been in the cloth trade, Thomas Cromwell notices what people are wearing, and can price it up. Its part of his characteristic way of looking at the world. Hes a pleb looking at aristos, an outsider looking at insiders, a clever man looking at the stupid; hes got an angle on things. Once Ive grasped his unique perspective, I can try recreating him. But this in an imaginative reconstruction, of course. I just try to make sure my
imagination works with the facts, not against them.
Jane Seymour: we dont know much about her, and so, annoyingly, historians have supposed there was nothing to know. I think she may have been quite an astute woman. She played her hand very coolly. But I realize her contemporaries didnt know what to make of her either. So my Jane doesnt say much, but what she does say can be devastating. She is subversive and often sarcastic, but the men around her dont always realize this.
I love that advice about writing fiction, not bullying it into being.
Oooh, how exciting! I don't read many historical novels but loved this, and love the title.
Q It is a sympathetic, even romantic portrayal of Thomas Cromwell, do you think of him as a basically good character? Why did he appeal to you?
Q The novels show the terrible position of rich women at the time, eg traded by their families. Was it hard to write about this without being either cold or obviously indignant?
Aspinall, you need to read Wolf Hall first IMO.
I must say I dont think of TC as a subject for romance, but I dont either see him as the villain weve been living with since the Victorians. Its an odd fact that his place in academic history and his place in popular history are quite different. Academic historians have long seen him as central to Henrys reign. But they dont necessarily consider what he was like as a man; thats not their job. In popular history, hes been vilified on the basis of very little information. I wanted to try to put aside prejudice, wipe the slate clean, and see what I found. I wanted to know how he did it: blacksmiths son to earl.
Arranged marriages: you do feel for the women, and the men as well, but you have to stay within the ages own framework of thought. Its false to apply 21st century standards to their conduct and customs. So if I am indignant, I try to be indignant in a sixteenth century way.
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