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Bookmarks Issue: 
59-July-Aug-2012
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756804.pngHilary Mantel's Wolf Hall (4 of 5 Stars Selection Jan/Feb 2010), the first in her series about Thomas Cromwell, won the Booker Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award. Bring Up the Bodies is an immediate sequel. The British author's novels include A Change of Climate (1994), A Place of Greater Safety (1993), Fludd (1989), and Beyond Black ( 3.5 of 5 Stars Sept/Oct 2005), among others.

The Story: In Wolf Hall, Thomas Cromwell, born into poverty in the late 15th century, rises to become the most influential advisor to Henry VIII. When the monarch seeks to annul his marriage to Katherine of Aragon in order to marry Anne Boleyn, Cromwell steps in to help him sever his relationship with the Catholic Church. In Bring Up the Bodies, Anne (wife number two) has failed to give Henry VIII a son, and the king vows to get rid of her and court, in her place, the demure Jane ("plain Jane") Seymour. Cromwell is, of course, ready to bring down the doomed schemer (and soon-to-be-executed‚ there are no spoilers here) Anne. But first he must outsmart his enemies and take revenge on the aristocrats who destroyed his mentor.
Henry Holt. 432 pages. $28. ISBN: 9780805090031

Entertainment Weekly 4.5 of 5 Stars
"Mantel's a first-rate stylist and master of psychology, imagining an entirely convincing cast of nuanced personalities." Rob Brunner

Globe and Mail (Canada) 4.5 of 5 Stars
"Excellence is rare, it is a reason why we value it so much. Whatever hesitations a reader might have in terms of his or her ability to judge the validity of Mantel's proposal as to the real people and events of a darkly shaded time, the telling of her tale is masterful." Guy Gavriel Kay

Salon 4.5 of 5 Stars
"[The novel] is a high-wire act, a feat of novelistic derring-do. Mantel makes bold not with form‚ by now meaningful experimentation in that area seems exhausted‚ but with the very material that brings most readers to novels in the first place: our imaginative identification with fictional characters and the experiences we feel we're sharing with them." Laura Miller

Guardian (UK) 4 of 5 Stars
"The ambiguous Cromwell is a character who fits Mantel's particular strengths. She's never gone for the sweet people, and is no stranger to dark purposes." Margaret Atwood

Independent (UK) 4 of 5 Stars
"[Mantel] has no truck with the feminised Tudor history denounced by David Starkey, but sticks firmly to her agenda‚ male point-of-view, Cromwell's point-of-view, a political point-of-view, with no lust in the Tudor shrubbery. Mantel is an extraordinary novelist, a remarkable stylist, and rather a commonplace historian: a careful 2.1 and not a daring First. She aims to please us." Diane Purkiss

New York Times 4 of 5 Stars
"Bring Up the Bodies is beautifully constructed, even though there will be moments when it seems confusing. But it proves delightful to watch and anticipate how Ms. Mantel steers them all [the characters] into and out of Cromwell's view, follows his canny assessments of how to play them off against one another and lays out the affronts for which they will later pay dearly." Janet Maslin

Critical Summary

Bring Up the Bodies takes place over the course of a little less than a year, and during that time, Cromwell, whose family has died and whose political ambition has placed him in peril many times, has become a diminished man. As in Wolf Hall, most readers know the outcome of this sequel‚ but it's how Mantel weaves together Cromwell's life with the tapestry of history that makes Bring Up the Bodies an exceptional book. Mantel offers an alternative view to the customary portrayal of the villainous, ruthless Cromwell, though he is less sympathetic here than in the previous novel. In addition, her use of present tense and standard English set against the richness of Henry VIII's court creates an immediacy that belies the last six centuries. Bring Up the Bodies‚ profound, fierce, disturbing‚ is that rare work of historical fiction that builds a gripping world from start to end.