Review: ‘Bring Up the Bodies’

bringupbodies

Bring Up the Bodies
By Hilary Mantel

  • Date Finished: May 22, 2015
  • Genre: Historical Fiction
  • Year: 2012
  • Project: n/a
  • Reading List: Spring 2015, Booker Prize Winners
  • Grade: A+
  • Thoughts:

Sometimes, I think I can be a little weird with what I choose to read. The goal always is to like the books,  with the hopes that I’ll fall in love many, many times, while also learning something new and amazing and life-changing along the way. Small goals, you know? I typically have a very good idea of what books I’ll be reading for the next, oh I don’t know, year, based on what’s unread on my shelf + reading lists + Important Books + various literary awards + hype from Big Media + the ever-present list of backlist classics.

Many times, I put a book on my reading list not knowing what I’m getting myself into, other than they fit into the above-mentioned categories and they’re probably considered “good”. However, just because other people think they’re good doesn’t mean I’ll like them.  In fact, anytime I crack open a new book, there’s a very good chance that I may not like the book at all. But that’s OK. One of my super-achievable goals is to basically read everything, so I might as well, right? Gotta get to it eventually. Plus, forcing myself to read books out of my comfort zone is like eating spinach or taking my vitamins. It’s good for me in the long run, and makes me a healthier reader.

Now, what this rambling introduction is trying to say is that picking up Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel – the second in her much-lauded trilogy on Thomas Cromwell – is like enjoying some really great cheese and wine, and then maybe some dark chocolate. Also, some ice cream and more cheese. This is a book that I knew I was going to not likebut love. I knew it! It was almost like cheating, or reading Stephen King. It’s reading that pleasure that you really do feel guilty about, because it feels like you’re not even trying! Plus, it’s not like I’m just eating a tub of ice cream with Bring Up the Bodies; no, it’s pretty damn good for you too.

What can I say about this book that hasn’t already been said by the critics, readers, and the judges of the Booker Prize and Costa Book of the Year prize. This is a damn great book, and I loved it as much as I loved Wolf Hall. As I said then, I loved how Mantel is able to take a real person most of history looks upon with disdain and turn him into a person we can sympathize with, understand … maybe see a bit of ourselves in? Thomas Cromwell is a big deal during a really big part of English history, but history has unfortunately lumped him with the scandal surrounding Anne Boleyn and the court of King Henry VIII. Don’t get me wrong – he’s a big part of why Anne lost her head. But in Mantel’s books, we learn that sometimes the more notorious character actors in history are far more interesting when they’re presented as humans.

All that being said, this book had less to do with Cromwell’s past and more to do with getting Anne off the throne, which as we know, was a Big Deal then and now. However, it’s amazing how little we Americans know about this particularly (dare I say it) over-hyped period in English history, and I continue to learn a lot simply by absorbing the thousands of small historical details Mantel sneaks into the novel. It’s also interesting see how an era colored by sex, power, kings, and blood on the ax is driven by the same kind of politics that move our world today. If anything, it gives one a certain … appreciation … for how people actually come to power, and then fight like hell to stay there. Suffice it to say, I foresee Mr. Cromwell’s fate changing in the next book, and I can’t wait to read about it. Sometimes, you just gotta allow for a few guilty pleasures.

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