When I started Wolf Hall, I had no idea it was part of a trilogy. I haven’t done any research on this, but I think it is the only Booker Prize winner, so far, to have a sequel and a 3rd book.
Bring Up The Bodies picks up almost exactly where Wolf Hall left off, so it is difficult to really think of it as a separate novel. In fact, it would be a rather confusing novel to read as a stand-alone. I would really recommend that readers finish Wolf Hall before starting Bring Up The Bodies, if only to familiarize themselves with the characters and the narrative and tone of the novels.
Like Wolf Hall, Bring Up The Bodies is highly entertaining, full of wit and unexpected humor and brilliance. It differs slightly from Wolf Hall in that it gives more insights on the inner thoughts and fears of Thomas Cromwell, as well as giving readers more glimpses into his sketchy past.
Bring Up The Bodies is a bit shorter than Wolf Hall, concentrating on the tragic events (depending on whose side you’re on) in the lives of Henry VIII, Katherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn, and of course, Thomas Cromwell, from 1535 to 1536.
In Wolf Hall, Thomas Cromwell used his talents, skill, cunning, and influence as a lawyer and statesman to make it possible for Henry VIII to annul his marriage to his first wife, Katherine of Aragon, to marry Anne Boleyn.
In Bring Up the Bodies, Cromwell must once again use his talents and skill to undo everything he worked so hard to bring about in Wolf Hall. He must now work on the annulment of Henry VIII’s marriage to Anne Boleyn, making it possible for him to marry Jane Seymour.
Being a work of historical fiction, anyone who has a basic knowledge of British/Western/World History, or anyone with a television, for that matter, would be familiar with Henry VIII and his penchant for changing wives.
What really sets this novel, or trilogy, apart from other Tudor-themed works, is that the protagonist is not Henry VIII, or Anne Boleyn, but Thomas Cromwell – a commoner’s son who rose the ranks to eventually become the King’s Master Secretary.
Unlike the historical portrayals of Thomas Cromwell as an evil, manipulative, dark figure, Hilary Mantel chose to show Cromwell in a positive light – highly intelligent, loyal, hardworking, loving, and cunning – talents he utilizes to best serve his king and country. Indeed, if one were to use Wolf Hall and Bring Up The Bodies as his only character references, one could easily consider Thomas Cromwell as one of the greatest men to have ever lived.
In Bring Up The Bodies, Cromwell must learn to work with his enemies, to to bring about changes in the kingdom – changes that do not necessarily bode well for him. With the sudden change of Henry VIII’s heart, and with it, the political climate, Cromwell has become more doubtful and fearful of his future and that of his household.
Bring Up The Bodies highlights Cromwell’s temporary triumphs, but it also marks the start of his slow, eventual downfall and disfavor.
Bring Up The Bodies (2012) – Hilary Mantel
Henry Holt; 410 pages.
Personal rating: 4/5