Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
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Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Should you enter Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall before you can Bring Up The Bodies?

One of the big book releases this spring is Bring Up The Bodies,Hilary Mantel's follow-up to her Man Booker prize winning novel Wolf Hall. Since the bulk of the plot of BUTB is about the downfall of Anne Boleyn,considered to the best known of the doomed wives of Henry the Eighth,diving right into this story without having read the previous book is a reasonable option for any reader.

Having received a review copy of BUTB,I was prepared to do just that but my tendency towards sticking with continuity lead me to picking up the paperback edition of Wolf Hall,which I am currently reading at the moment. While I am pretty familiar with whole Anne Boleyn saga,Hilary Mantel's writing style and take on that time frame is crisp and new to me. Her prose is engagingly readable,with a touch of stream of consciousness to add fresh flavor to what could be a stale story in other hands.

Mantel's twist is seeing the Tudor world through the eyes of Thomas Cromwell,a legal adviser to Cardinal Wolsey who makes his path to power via the political struggle to divorce Henry from Katherine of Aragon and replace her with Anne. Cromwell is seen in history as the polar opposite of Thomas More,whose refusal to endorse the dissolution of the Catholic Church's authority in England lead to his official execution:

However,Mantel humanizes Cromwell,who started out life as a commoner and made his own way in the world. While not every deal he made was ethical,most of his decisions seemed to be based on street smarts as well as book knowledge. Plus,his knack for making enemies as easily as others make friends didn't help Cromwell's likability factor any.

I suspect his more pragmatic side will be at the forefront of Bring Up The Bodies,as the book covers the trial of Anne Boleyn and those accused of being her lovers. As much as folks will want to see him as a self interested villain,blame for the downfall of Boleyn can be cast in more than one corner and Cromwell's part in that sad ending is about equal with Henry's,one could argue:

This retelling of the Tudor tale is no easy trick to pull off,as any writer of historical fiction can tell you. However,Mantel holds the reins quite steady and breathes some lively air into the proceedings. Of course,most people are more intrigued with Anne Boleyn than Cromwell but both sides of that coin are in focus in BUTB,from what I've been seeing.

Bring Up The Bodies is intended to be the second volume in a trilogy,which will probably take Thomas Cromwell to his inevitable demise. Too soon
to tell when that one will be out,yet judging by what Hilary Mantel has graced us with so far,that book should be well worth the wait:

As to whether or not you should start with Wolf Hall before BUTB,it may be a good idea to get both books and see which way works best for you. Regardless of how you get there,this journey into the heart and mind of Thomas Cromwell is an exhilarating reading experience to behold. Everything old can be new again,particularly when it comes to history in the making and unmaking of a true to life character:

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