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Bring up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel

This is the sequel to the excellent Wolf Hall.  I had not ever intended to read Wolf Hall – I felt like Philippa Gregory had “done” the Tudors for me.  But I kept picking it up and putting it down in bookshops and so I decided just to give in and read it.  Wolf Hall deals with the breakdown of Henry VIII’s marriage to Katherine of Aragon and the rise of Anne Boleyn.  Bring up the Bodies is the next instalment in a trilogy, and this deals with Henry’s burgeoning doubts about Anne Boleyn and her eventual fall.

Like Wolf Hall, Bring up the Bodies is told from the perspective of Thomas Cromwell, who is generally portrayed as a pretty unsympathetic and much reviled character.  Hilary Mantel’s version of Cromwell is anything but – she really makes him human and above all a survivor.  His affection for his family and his household is touching, but he is also a man who will get the job done and make himself rich in the process.

Mantel writes in the third person present tense and I think that is part of the genius of her writing – everything is very intense and alive, but at the same time you barely notice the writing and techniques she uses to suck you in, which is the mark of a truly great writer.  It is quite different from Wolf Hall – that was all about Thomas Cromwell on the rise and Bring up the Bodies is about him maintaining his favour with the King.  From Cromwell’s point of view, Anne Boleyn has to go, for if she doesn’t he will meet the same fate as Cardinal Wolesy – he has to strike her before she can strike him.  But throughout the book, the subtle seeds are sown which will eventually lead to his own downfall in the next instalment.

One of the things that had put me off reading Wolf Hall originally was the size – I was worried about becoming bogged down in dull legal details about Henry’s struggle for a divorce.  Bring up the Bodies is also quite a hefty book.  However, at no point in either book does the story every get bogged down in tedium or in providing too much detail.  You can tell that Hilary Mantel really knows her character and the time period well, but she steers clear of any temptation to make this a pseudo-biography of Thomas Cromwell and maintains it as an excellent work of fiction.

Like Wolf Hall, Bring up the Bodies won the Booker Prize.  When the next instalment comes out, I find it hard to believe that it will not also be a prize winner.

For anyone with an interest in Tudors, a love of Philippa Gregory or a love of reading good books and world class writing will enjoy Bring up the Bodies.  I would recommend starting with Wolf Hall though.  Most people are familiar enough with the Tudor story that they will know what has happened before and so could read out of sequence.  However, I think to really appreciate the character of Thomas Cromwell then you should start the story from the beginning of his rise.

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The ones that got away…

I just can’t bring myself to let the 30 day book challenge go yet without one final post.

I have spent the last month enjoying a trip down memory lane, thinking about all of the books and authors that I love and trying to narrow these down to one or two per post.  But there are a lot of strong contenders which didn’t get a mention, some of which I have only thought about after the original posts went live.

So to round off the 30 day book challenge, I’m going to do a summary of those answers to which I could say “close but no cigar”.

DAY 1 – A book series you wish would just end already OR one that you wish would go on longer

His Dark Materials should go on – the ending was heart breaking and I have always wanted to see what happened next.

DAY 2. – Favorite side character

Ygritte from Game of Thrones – for being a wild northern woman and for making Jon Snow more interesting.

DAY 3. – The longest book you’ve read

Game of Thrones – all of them are hefty books, but books 3 and 5 are so enormous they had to split them into two volumes.

DAY 4. – Book turned into a movie and completely desecrated

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire – my favourite Potter book of them all.  The movie was the biggest disappointment of them all.

DAY 5. –  Your “comfort” book

The Time Traveller’s Wife – one of my all time favourites and I know that I can pick it up and will love it more each time.

DAY 6. – Book you’ve read the most number of times

Who Killed Peggy Sue – a real favourite of my teenage years – my copy of this book is literally falling apart at the seams.

DAY 7. – A guilty pleasure book

Angels and Demons by Dan Brown.  I live with a scientist who would be appalled if he knew just how much I secretly enjoy this book with all of it’s bad science!

DAY 8. – Most underrated book

Katherine by Anya Seton – originally published in 1954, she is a forerunner to Philippa Gregory and has produced an excellent book about someone I had never heard of but whose offspring went on to found the Tudor line.

DAY 9. – Most overrated book

The Great Gatsby – my sister is obsessed with this book.   I thought it was just okay.

DAY 10. – A book you thought you wouldn’t like but ended up loving

Room by Emma Donoghue – I read it to find out what the hype was about really and didn’t really think it would be my cup of tea, but it was un-putdownable – disturbing at times but such great writing, and she never faltered in maintaining the voice of the child narrator.

DAY 11. – Favorite classic book

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte – quite an obvious answer but Jane Eyre is a woman before her time, and for a classic it is an easy read.

DAY 12. – A book you wanted to read for a long time but still haven’t

Grimm fairy tales – I finally have a copy and it is on my to read pile!

DAY 13. – A book that disappointed you

Dissolution, C J Samson – this medieval murder mystery sounded right up my street, but it fell flat for me.

DAY 14. –  Book that made you cry

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne – the horrifying events that we understand as adult readers but which are not understood by the child narrator gets me every time.

DAY 15. – A character who you can relate to the most

Robb Stark from Game of Thrones – also a strong contender for favourite side character, he really brings out the rebellious northerner in me.

DAY 16. – Most thought-provoking book

Incendiary by Chris Cleeve – a scarily realistic account of a terrorist attack on London which really makes you think about how far we should we should compromise the values that we are supposed to be fighting for,

DAY 17. – Author I wish people would read more

Chris Cleeve – some people may be put off by the lack of blurb, but give him a go – you will not be disappointed.

DAY 18. – A book you wish you could live in

The Faraway tree by Enid Blyton – as a child I was obsessed with this tree where the different lands rotated in the high branches and the children discovered a new adventure in the tree every time.

DAY 19. – A favourite author

Chimanadna Ngozi Adiche – her stories about Nigeria, and in particular the food, are so evocative that they make me want to visit the country for myself.

DAY 20. – Favorite childhood book

Sweet Valley High – I adored this series of books, I devoured them as a child and used to imagine that one day I would find a long lost twin and we would be just like Jessica and Elizabeth!

DAY 21. – Book you tell people you’ve read, but haven’t (or haven’t actually finished)

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes – this was a Christmas gift last year and I’m still working my way through it.  I would probably say if asked that I had read it, but it is still a work in progress.

DAY 22. – Least favourite plot device employed by way too many books you actually enjoyed otherwise

Coincidence – totally unbelieveable most of the time and should be used very sparingly in my opinion.

DAY 23. – Best book you’ve read in the last 12 months

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel – I thought Philippa Gregory had done the Tudors for me, but then I read this.  Truly excellent writing and a different perspective on a well known story.

DAY 24. – Book you’re most embarrassed to say you like/liked

PS I Love You by Cecilia Ahearn – I usually avoid chick lit like the plague.  This is one exception, but I don’t like to admit to it!

DAY 25. – The most surprising plot twist or ending

Love in the time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez – I didn’t like the majority of this book, but I thought the final chapter was sublime and more than made up for the rest of the book.

DAY 26. – Book that makes you laugh out loud

The Fiend books by Sheila Lavelle – these belonged to my younger sister and I pinched them and read them when I was probably too old for them, but they made me laugh and so I didn’t care.

DAY 27. – Book that has been on your “to read” list the longest

The Beautiful and the Damned by F. Scott Fitzgerald – I have been putting off reading this one after being underwhelmed by The Great Gatsby and Tender is the Night.

DAY 28. – Favourite quote from a book

“You’re a wizard Harry” – classic.

DAY 29. – A book you hated

December by Elizabeth Winthrop – hate is a strong word for this one but this book did nothing for me and I couldn’t stand the end.

DAY 30. – Book you couldn’t put down 

How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff – another one I completed in one sitting – I loved reading about their foraging seeing Daisy adapt and grow in very difficult circumstances.

I really am done now.  I will now start posting fresh content in which the words “30 day book challenge” will not appear!  It has been hard work at times but I have genuinely loved every minute of it.

I’m always on the lookout for new books/authors to try, so if you would like to share any of your own answers to the above questions, then please leave a comment!