I’m wondering if any sequel can live up to the accomplishment of Wolf Hall, the marvelous historical fiction about Thomas Cromwell which was so good on so many levels. I start this one and think nope – not going to cut it – and then oh … wait a minute, Mantel seems to have her stuff together again for an Act 2.
I think one of the most amazing things about this volume of the trilogy is how Mantel turned Cromwell from a basically sympathetic character in Wolf Hall to a sleaze and a snake in Bring Up the Bodies. Another thing of course was the apparently solid research – (and the notes section at the end was a nice touch). The writing was brilliant, the structure was genius – if I’m not careful this book will get a 10.
A sample of what I would highlight for sheer beauty:
“Then you say, I can’t endure this any more, I must breathe: you burst out of the room and into a wild garden where the guilty are hanging from trees, no longer ivory, no longer ebony, but flesh; and their wild lamenting tongues proclaim their guilt as they die. In this matter, cause has been preceded by effect. What you dreamed has enacted itself. You reach for a blade but the blood is already shed. The lambs have butchered and eaten themselves. They have brought knives to the table, carved themselves, and picked their own bones clean.” p. 341
“When Wyatt writes, his lines fledge feathers, and unfolding this plumage they dive below their meaning and skim above it. They tell us that the rules of power and the rules of war are the same, the art is to deceive; and you will deceive, and be deceived in your turn, whether you are an ambassador or a suitor. ” p. 348
I was hooked but a bit weary of reading one really good book after another so I interspersed this with a couple other fine books – listens.
Anyway, in Bring Up the Bodies we have Thomas talking to himself again in third person – “he” “his” etc. (Perhaps it’s an intimate third person.) I think Mantel may have paid heed to some criticism regarding this third-person intimate point of view being confusing to some readers. Not I and I have a bit of an issue with her attempt here to clarify things by the use of “he – that is Cromwell – was …” phrases. I figured it out last time, I could do it again.
Getting on with it – Chap 1 we rejoin Cromwell and get some background and some updates until Henry (VIII) meets Jane Seymore. I think the Seymores are as viscous and power-hungry as the Bolyns – probably more so. The reader with some background in the history will know that Cromwell has his work cut out for him.
The language is lovely, dense, a bit old-fashioned and lightly spattered with archaic words and phrasing. It’s not an easy book – but it’s not in the category of “hard books” by any means. Mantel is bringing history to life – not manufacturing a story to go with an historical situation or era.
It looks like this book will have Cromwell’s duties other than matchmaking included. Martin Luther has already come up as has the alliances between France and Rome, etc.
Should be interesting.
The act of dismantling the monasteries – the riches to the kingdom. –
“As for the monks, he believes, like Martin Luther, that the monastic life is not necessary, not useful, not commanded of Christ. There’s nothing imperishable about monasteries. There’s nothing imperishable about monasteries. They’re not part of God’s natural order. They rise and decay, like any other institutions, and sometimes their buildings fall down, or they are ruined by lax stewardship. Over the years any number of them have vanished or relocated or become swallowed into some other monastery. The number of monks is diminishing naturally, because these days the good Christian man lives out in the world. Take Battle Abbey. Two hundred monks at the height of its fortunes, and now – what? – forty at most. Forty fat fellows sitting on a fortune. The same up and down the kingdom. Resources that could be freed, that could be put to better use. Why should money lie in coffers, when it could be put into circulation among the king’s subjects?” (p 43)
When the book opens, Henry VIII is king and Anne Bolyn is his queen at the Palace of Palencia in Greenwich.
Meanwhile, Catherine of Aragon, Henry’s divorced wife, and Mary, his daughter from that marriage, were virtual prisoners at Moor Park House in Herftordshire.
When the book opens Henry, still married to Anne, is just becoming enamored of Jane Seymour, one of her ladies in waiting, when Jane was 25 years old.
Jane was a lovely girl – I suppose she caught his eye because she was small, frail and also because of of her soft looks, her quiet ways. Such a change from the feisty Anne who appealed to him after the plain and ever so religious Catherine.