Friday, 25 May 2012

Something for the weekend - Bring up the bodies

This weeks 'Something for the weekend' is Bring up the bodies by Hilary Mantel.

Guaranteed to be one of the bestsellers of the year, ‘Bring up the Bodies’ follows on from ‘Wolf Hall’ & continues the incredible story of Anne Boleyn’s rise & fall at the behest of Henry VIII, England’s most notorious serial (killing) monogamist.

The narrative is related at first-hand through Thomas Cromwell, Henry’s faithful right- hand man when it comes to engineering the divorce from Catherine of Aragon, dismantling the state religion & disposing of the opposition – all in the name of Henry’s single-minded pursuit of a male heir to the throne.

Mantel skilfully paints a fascinating picture of Cromwell – touchingly kind & human when dealing with his own household & friends, but ruthless in implementing the king’s will. He is a brilliant administrator & adept politician – a working-class boy made good who is initially despised by his noble-born counterparts & subsequently feared & hated in equal measure as he gains real power. Indeed, there is a tangible sense of menace & dread at Henry’s court as key historical figures jockey for position in the King’s favour, only to be bloodily dispatched when their usefulness has run its course. I found myself reminded of the first two Godfather films as Henry, through Cromwell, brutally laid waste to any obstacles in his way while at the same time wishing to be seen as the benevolent patron & figurehead of his realm.

These books are by no means an easy read as Mantel’s dense prose demands attention, but equally they are immersive & hugely rewarding, giving the reader an unrestricted view of one of the pivotal periods in our history.

If you haven’t read them before, read them back to back - as I did - & remind yourself what great novel writing should be.

Steve Orchard

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