A man like other men?

This is my review of Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel.

Since every reader must surely know that Anne Boleyn fails to give Henry V111 a son, and loses her head, while Thomas Cromwell falls from grace, although not in the second part of a planned trilogy, everything hinges on Mantel's ability to breathe life into the characters and embroider the details.

She has entered so fully into the imagined minds of both Cromwell and Henry that she provides exceptionally vivid in-depth portrayals of these two main characters. She has to be able to see Cromwell's better side, and I sometimes feel she has grown to like him too much, this juvenile thug "made good", industrious, clever, manipulative, surprisingly good company, with a soft spot for orphan boys and vulnerable young women. Yet she never lets us forget his underlying ruthlessness, as when he has an almost fond memory of Bishop Fisher, only to recall how, when the man's head would not rot on its pole, Cromwell had it put in a sack and thrown in the Thames.

On page 208 (first hard cover edition) there is a wonderful psychological analysis of Henry who "grew up believing the whole world was his friend and everyone wanted him to be happy. So any pain, any delay, frustration or stroke of ill luck seems to him an anomaly, an outrage." His self-justification, pathetic desire to be "in the right" and to leave all the dirty work to others as regards replacing Anne with Jane Seymour are all too apparent.

Mantel has a good ear for comedy, so some of the dialogues, as when Jane Seymour is being trained by her relatives to enter rooms in a more queenly way, are very amusing.

"Bring up the Bodies" seems more successful than "Wolf Hall" since it is more tightly plotted. In both cases, the book improves as the narrative drive builds up to the dramatic climax, in this case Anne's execution.

Once I had tuned into Mantel's daringly distinctive style, I began to feel the writing is often brilliant, but there were times in the first half when I found her self-indulgently wordy. Significant characters and events tend to be introduced in such an oblique way that you may miss them. The confusing tendency to call Cromwell "he" is still evident, but was it some misguided editor who suggested substituting at times "he; he, Cromwell,"?

An interesting aspect is Cromwell's desire to make radical social reforms, as gaining in confidence he increasingly "runs the country" behind the scenes. The final part in which Henry turns on his faithful servant, only to regret it, will perhaps make a more moving read than anything that has preceded it.

⭐⭐⭐⭐ 4 Stars

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