Bring Up the Bodies
By Hilary Mantel |(Fourth Estate, R210)
You build them up, only to pull them down. The fall of man becomes more evident in Mantel’s rivetting second in a trilogy covering the intriguing Thomas Cromwell, Henry VIII’s closest advisor and confidant.
For those who have read the book, it won’t come as a surprise that it scooped a second Booker prize for the author.
If you liked Wolf Hall, you will love Bring Up the Bodies because it seems to pick up pace and being more familiar with the characters, the new names one has to contend with, become easier to grasp.
It again highlights Mantel’s astonishing writing. She has a remarkable gift to tell a story that draws you into the heart of her characters while writing in a language that takes your breath away.
She’s made high-brow literature sexy and while some may prefer to go for 50 Shades of Grey and that’s fine, it’s good to have options.
Back to Master Cromwell.
The more things change, the more they stay the same.
You could draw direct links to the masters of the universe on Wall Street or in any financial centre.
Power corrupts and always has.
Cromwell, a son of a blacksmith, rises at court to the most favoured position, and with that his family wealth and favours grow proportionately.
But as the one who often has to deal the harshest blows, he realises that he has to protect his family interests.
He has a human side, witnesses the weaknesses and strengths of others and will extend a helping hand but never at his cost.
Protection turns swiftly to prosecution as his one-time cohort Anne Boleyn slowly loses favour and turns against him, the one whom he so closely guarded while fighting for her alliance with the king.
But Henry VIII is looking around and doubting his wife’s allegiance.
Jane Seymour, a demure young lass, has caught his eye and this is where Cromwell’s attention has to turn to keep his personal favours brightly gilted.
It’s not that tough a tale if you consider the shifting of allegiances.
Follow the money is what it remains if you want to piece the puzzle together. But what Mantel does so brilliantly, is create a story that brings the important players to life and shows just how within the palace walls, everyone had to guard for him/herself.
“Ah for God ‘s sake, Harry Norris. Have I to write on the wall for you? The king must be rid of her, she cannot give him a son and he is out of love with her. He loves another lady and he cannot come at her unless Anne is removed.
“Now is that simple enough for your tastes?” asks Cromwell as he explains the situation which some time back, he had to explain about Anne who needed to take the place of Henry’s first wife Catherine of Aragon.
It’s simple, he says.
They all turned at the whims of one man who had all the power to raise or destroy.
As the fixer, Cromwell had to make the king’s wishes come true and he was not to fail like those before him. It is each one for himself – or be damned and hanged.
The intriguing thing though is the mind of Boleyn.
The author writes that any information about her last weeks is inaccurate and perhaps fiction.
She had to rely on those closest to her.
“In this book I try to show how a few crucial weeks might have looked from Cromwell’s point of view. I am not claiming authority for my version; I am making the reader a proposal, an offer.”
She also states that this is not a book about Anne or Henry VIII, but about the career of Cromwell.
“Meanwhile, Mr Secretary remains sleek, plump and densely inaccessible, like a choice plum in a Christmas pie; but I hope to continue my efforts to dig him out.”
Well that’s enough promise to keep loyal readers anticipating the conclusion of the trilogy and check her magnificent use of language.
In the meantime, if you haven’t read Wolf Hall, start there. If you have, you would need no encouragement to dip into this one. It takes you to another world but once there, you will be amazed by the many similarities. – Diane de Beer