Becky’s One Hundred and Forty-First Book Review: “Bring Up the Bodies” by Hilary Mantel

“Bring Up the Bodies” by Hilary Mantel is the sequel to “Wolf Hall”. It continues to follow the story of Henry VIII. The story is still narrated by Thomas Cromwell and picks up shortly after “Wolf Hall” left off. Thomas Cromwell is still serving Henry VIII who, at this point in time, is married to Anne Boleyn having successfully severed ties with Katherine of Aragon.  It seems appropriate that I am writing about “Bring Up the Bodies” when yesterday marked the anniversary of Anne Boleyn’s death. In “Wolf Hall” we read about Anne Boleyn making her way to the top to become Henry VIII’s wife. In “Bring Up the Bodies” Hilary Mantel focuses on Anne Boleyn’s rise and fall, so it does seem fitting.

One quote that stood out to me in “Bring Up the Bodies” has Cromwell talking about jousting and the different kinds of men that do it, how you can judge the kind of man based on if they swerve or close their eyes. Although he is focused on jousting it does represent well in my opinion the court of Henry VIII. Reading this book, living vicariously through the characters, which are based off of real individuals, it makes you realize just how dangerous life was at court during Henry VIII’s reign. You had to be aware of what was happening at all times. The second that you swerve, that you take your eye off of the target, that’s when you get hit. You never see it coming. “Some men don’t swerve, but instead they close their eyes at the moment of impact. These men are of two kinds: the ones who know they do it and can’t help it, and the ones who don’t know they do it. Get your boys to watch you when you practice. Be neither of these kinds of men.” (Bring Up the Bodies, pg 165). You could never really stop dancing during Henry VIII’s reign. You never knew when he might change his mind.

Part of what makes this book so exciting and easy to devour is that knowledge that the bones of the story, that actually happened. These characters are based off of real people – people that existed during Henry VIII’s reign. Some lived to tell their tales, but most didn’t. There was so much change during that time that it was near impossible to keep up with it. With each new queen, new fashions came to play and anyone who wasn’t following her style was instantly suspect. People saw what Anne Boleyn did – a commoner rose up to become Queen of England. She burned brightly in that court, but that which burns brightest usually does so for a shorter period of time. “…No one need contrive at her ruin. No one is guilty of it. She ruined herself. You cannot do what Anne Boleyn did, and live to be old.” (Bring Up the Bodies, pg 309). It’s a very good point. Henry VIII is a name that everyone knows but Anne Boleyn is arguably just as well known. She made history and she changed history, England was not the same after encountering Anne Boleyn.

Another quote that I really enjoyed in “Bring Up the Bodies” would be, “This is a business that tries the most experienced. He remembers that day in the forge when a hot iron had seared his skin. There was no choice of resisting the pain. His mouth dropped open and a scream flew out and hit the wall. His father ran to him and said ‘Cross your hands,’ and helped him to water and to salve, but afterwards Walter said to him, ‘It’s happened to us all. It’s how you learn. You learn to do things the way your father taught you, and not by some foolish method you hit upon yourself half an hour ago.’” (Bring Up the Bodies, pg 278) I liked this quote because it made me reflect on Henry VIII and all the changes that he made to England once he was king. There have been many theories as to why Henry VIII did all that he did – he must have set some sort of record in regards to how many people he had killed during his reign. He ended up having six wives (we all know the rhyme: divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survive) and you have to wonder how much of what he did was thought through. Was Henry VIII mad? Was he just an impulsive child? Or was he some combination of the two?

Would I recommend this book? Yes, I think that “Bring Up the Bodies” was just as well written if not more so than “Wolf Hall”. This series is addictive and I cannot wait for the next book to come out. In the meantime, I’m planning on getting my hands on more of Hilary Mantel’s works. She is quite talented and I’m interested in what else she had produced. 

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