For The Someday Book

Book Review: Bring Up the Bodies

Posted on: May 22, 2015

Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel, Picador, 2012, 406 pp.

Bring up the bodiesAfter finishing Wolf Hall, I couldn’t wait to dive in to Bring Up the Bodies. The story picks up right where Wolf Hall leaves off, with the death of Sir Thomas More. King Henry VII is becoming disenchanted with Anne Boleyn, as she loses her second child. Bring Up the Bodies follows the story forward to the accusations, trial and death of Anne Boleyn, as the King’s infatuation with Jane Seymour grows.

As in Wolf Hall, the focus of the story is Thomas Cromwell, and the novel unfolds from his perspective. Mantel’s storytelling makes Cromwell a sympathetic and humane character, a shrewd businessman with a growing fold of young men in his household. However, Bring Up the Bodies shows Cromwell as the legal architect of the trumped-up case against Anne Boleyn and her supposed lovers. Mantel’s Cromwell is patient and calculating, the perfect embodiment of the proverb, “revenge is a dish best served cold.” The story places the four men accused of cavorting with the queen in a play, years before, mocking Cromwell’s mentor Cardinal Wolsey. Cromwell’s case is his silent, unacknowledged payback.

One of the interesting aspects of Mantel’s story is Cromwell’s religious and spiritual life. His intellectual curiosity makes him a Protestant sympathizer, because he believes in access to the Bible, to thought and new ideas. However, he seems distant from God or faith, uncertain of the reality of God, or more importantly, whether God matters at all. If God is real and God matters, he is convinced, it is a God unbound by human limits and human imagination. This interaction with the dying Queen Katherine is an example.

She looks up. ‘I have wondered, master, in what language do you confess? Or do you not confess?’
‘God knows our hearts, madam. There is no need for an idle formula, for an intermediary.’ No need for language, either, he things: God is beyond translation. (91)

Mantel’s writing is just superb. Her style is subtle and direct, just like Cromwell himself. Initially, it appears like it could be dense or dry, especially since the major plot developments are already known by history. However, I find myself turning page after page. Mantel is already at work on the third volume of the trilogy, and I can only hope it will be published soon.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

About Me

I am a full-time pastor in the United Church of Christ, mother of a young child (B.), married to an aspiring academic and curmudgeon (J.). I live by faith, intuition and intellect. I follow politics, football and the Boston Red Sox. I like to talk about progressive issues, theological concerns, church life, the impact of technology and media, pop culture and books.

Helpful Hint

If you only want to read regular posts, click the menu for Just Reflections. If you only want to read book reviews, click the menu for Just Book Reviews.

  • Graham: Thank you for writing about Susan Howatch. I like it that she is described as a mesmerising story-teller on front of book, and I do agree. I had long
  • revjmk: Tammy, I'm not sure the "he" you are referring to here (Willimon, Hauerwas or me--who goes by the pronoun "she"). I'm also not sure why you think th
  • Tammy Sanders: Has no one noticed he has the 10 commandments wrong. 1. You shall have no other Gods before me. 2. You shall make no images. 3. Don’t take th



Member & Certified Reviewer

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 1,659 other followers
%d bloggers like this: