Thursday, January 30, 2014

375 (2014 #3). Bring Up the Bodies

by Hilary Mantel, 
read by Simon Vance

Bring Up the Bodies continues the novelization of the life of Thomas Cromwell, chief minister to King Henry VIII of England from 1532 to 1540.  In this 2012 Man Booker Prize-winning sequel to Hilary Mantel's 2009 Booker winning Wolf Hall, the brief period of September 1535 to summer 1536 is covered.  Mantel tells the well-known story of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn from another viewpoint.

In her author's note at the end of her book, Hilary Mantel says, "In this book I try to show how a few crucial weeks might have looked from Thomas Cromwell's point of view.  I am not claiming authority for my version; I am making the reader a proposal, an offer.  Some familiar aspects of the story are not to be found in this novel."

While writing about Anne's last days and reviewing historical sources, Mantel saw the legal phrase, “Bring up the bodies” (the command to the jailer to bring to their trial those who, because they are accused of treason, are regarded as already dead), “and they jumped off the page. And at that point I thought, I have a book, and I have a title, and it ends with Anne’s death,” Mantel said in a May 7, 2012 Telegraph interview.  The title first appears in the text on page 364 in the hardcover edition, just 43 pages before its end.

Cromwell is not as likeable in this novel as he was in Wolf Hall.  He is feeling his power, and the memories of his dead wife and daughters are fading.  By the end, he's starting to sound like Henry, wondering if his wife was always faithful to him and if his youngest daughter was truly his.  There is a clever but menacing device in the book that relates back to an incident in Wolf Hall, that shows why Cromwell may have targeted four of the five men accused as Anne's lovers.

The incomparable Simon Vance narrates this audiobook, and makes it easy to distinguish between characters.  Like Wolf Hall in 2010, this audiobook also won the Audie Award for Literary Fiction in 2013. Once again, the print version has the advantage of a table of contents, list of characters, and family trees for the Tudors and the Yorkist claimants to the throne.  A map would have been helpful for those of us not as familiar with England.

The cover on the audiobook and the hardbound edition I used has a portion of a portrait of Anne Boleyn on it.  However, I prefer the cover pictured to the right.  The book begins at Wolf Hall, the family home of Henry's current infatuation, Jane Seymour, with Cromwell out hunting with falcons named for his dead daughters, wife, and sisters.  I think it's a more fitting image, especially with the title.   I have to wonder if Cromwell really gave his birds those names, for Mantel says (in the same interview mentioned above) that “I try to make up as little as possible.”

© Amanda Pape - 2014

[The audiobook was borrowed and returned to my university library, while a print copy for reference was borrowed and returned to my local public library.]

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