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Saturday, 18 January 2014

Empty Shelf Challenge/Mad Review #3 - "Bring Up The Bodies" by Hilary Mantel

"We think time cannot touch the dead, but it touches their monuments, leaving them snub-nosed and stub-fingered from the accidents and attrition of time." 

"Bring Up The Bodies", Hilary Mantel's Booker Prize winner sequel to her Booker Prize-winning "Wolf Hall", follows the period of time in which Henry VIII, after finally casting off Katherine of Aragon, starts to lose interest in Anne Boleyn, compounded by the fact that, after all this time and all this upheaveal, she still has not given him a son. After meeting Jane Seymour, the king tells Cromwell, in hints at first, then more explicitly, he wishes to be rid of Boleyn. His reasoning? He did not think the marriage is lawful after all. The story is narrated through Cromwell's point of view, though still in third person.

A book likes this makes me wish I were a better writer, simply so I could write a review that does justice to a brilliant book like this. I'm not saying it's brilliant just because it won the Man Booker Prize in 2012. It was that knowledge which made me deliberately examine it more as I was reading it to try and judge why it did win.

Most of the time I was reading this book I felt like I was being gently carried along by a smooth-flowing river, or floating in a dream. It was so easy to lose yourself in the narrative, and more than once I had a "wait, what?" moment that resulted in going back paragraphs, or even pages, to try and find my place in the story again.

The use of third-person present tense narrative was partly what, in my view, made this book so fantastic. The tone it results in is menacing - quietly so, at first, but increasing in volume. Cromwell is doing the best he can - it is no mean feat, bringing down a queen of England, let alone trying to do it legally, as well as protecting himself from the jealousy and haughty contempt of higher-born men surrounding the king - and although he foreshadows that it is likely that he himself will be brought down at some point, neither he nor the reader could say for certain.

Mantel herself writes at the end that she does not claim authority for her version of events. She is only offering the reader a proposal, and using a different point of narrative to display events of centuries past. We may never know whether Anne Boleyn truly committed adultery or not. What we do know is that she failed to produce an heir, Henry couldn't abide this and turned his attentions to Jane Seymour, and he bid Cromwell do his dirty work for him. 

I personally found this book fascinating all the more because it was written from Cromwell's point of view. He is clever, calculating, and deliberate in all his moves. To keep a king of England in order, much less Henry VIII, while trying to keep himself from the reach of more noble men with a jealous eye, must have made for a tiring but no doubt satisfying occupation. I am definitely going to seek out "Wolf Hall" very soon, and indeed other works by Mantel. A very good read indeed.

Until next time! 

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