Here we are at the end of March, and hopefully, the end of our (re)read of both Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies. A road trip holiday has delayed my ability to finish BUTB on time, but I’m close. Very, very close.
My (re)read of Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies has reminded me why Mantel won the Booker Prize for both these books. They really are a tour de force of incredible story-telling, combining an extensive amount of historical research with creative interpretation. The Mirror and the Light has a lot to live up to!
Henry VIII comes across as a man very much governed by his passions. An intelligent man no doubt, but nonetheless wholly at the mercy of his feelings, or perhaps more accurately, his dick. And as the undisputed leader of his kingdom, the fluctuating urges of his dick, meant that other people lost their heads. In such an environment, it is little wonder that those around him did and said what they had to do keep their heads on their shoulders for as long as possible. Allegiances and loyalties changed at the drop of a hat, and when the king’s favour began to waiver, the quick-witted changed course too, even if it meant abandoning long-term friendships and alliances.
Mantel recreates this world of constantly shifting sands with a grace and humour I had forgotten. Many of the players realise how precarious their positions were, and played the game for as long as they could. The thrill of the chase, the access to power and wealth, and the sense of belonging to a special in-group, fed ambition and hope.
Mantel lets us see inside Cromwell’s world, fleshing out this historic powerful man into a family man. A tender, loving, family man who slowly, but inevitably gets absorbed into this world of sucking up, manipulation and intrigue.
Through Mantel we see how, not just Cromwell, but all the other players around Henry at different times, had their own families, their own stories, their own reasons and agendas for being there. Her trilogy is all about Cromwell, but it could just have easily been about Stephen Gardiner, Henry Norris, Thomas Cranmer or Charles Brandon. The pages of history only tell us so much about these men, all influential power-brokers behind the throne. In the hands of someone like Mantel, any one of these men could become a much-loved character in the annals of literary fiction, instead of just a name in a history text.
Now, however, it’s time to catch our breath and read something completely different, before embarking on the final book in the trilogy, The Mirror and the Light, on the 1st May. See you then!
- February – Wolf Hall (reread)
- March – Bring Up the Bodies (reread)
- May – The Mirror and the Light
If you would like me to add your reviews of WH, BUTB and TMATL to the list, please link your review in the comments. Current and historic posts welcome.
Wolf Hall reviews:
- My review.
- Geoff @The Oddness of Moving Things “Mantel luxuriates in the English language. She plays with words and passages in such a beautiful way I found myself consciously re-reading passages or scenes to feel the language flow through me again because of how beautiful it was.”