Monday, May 20, 2013

Bring Up The Bodies

I’ve just finished reading Hilary Mantel’s “Bring Up the Bodies”. I didn't find it easy reading, but then I hadn't found “Wolf Hall” easy reading either. Is this because I’m not clever enough to have found them easy reading, or is it because Hilary Mantel deliberately made “Wolf Hall” and “Bring Up the Bodies” not easy reading, so that their readers thoughtfully savour them in small bites over many weeks instead of wolfing (sic) them down in a single day?

I’ve come across people so clever, they routinely read a book a day, so that over a year they read more than 300 books. I wish I could do this, for there are so many books I’d like to read, but never will because I won’t live long enough.

I wonder, though, whether those clever people who regularly read a book a day, could read all of “Wolf Hall” in a day, and the very next day read all of “Bring Up The Bodies”. If they could, how much would they comprehend? Perhaps, then, they might need as much as two days for each. As it was, I spent a whole month on “Bring Up The Bodies”.

Because it won last year’s Booker Prize, and so was written about and spoken about everywhere, I probably don’t need to tell you what "Bring Up The Bodies" is about, but I will. It’s about King Henry the Eighth, and all the trouble he had to go through to rid himself of his second wife, Anne Boleyn, because he wanted to marry Jane Seymour. 

If Anne had been a Miss Goody Two Shoes, it might have been even more trouble for Henry to get rid of her than it actually was, for, despite being a King, he needed good reason to get rid of her. Fortunately for Henry, Anne liked to flirt with the young men in the Royal court to such an extent that it gave observers reason to think she was sleeping with some, among them her brother.

In those days, if a Queen slept with a man not the King, it was borderline treason, and even more so if the man not the King was her brother. Also, it was said that Anne had told at least one of the men she allegedly slept with that she wished Henry was dead. For anyone, let alone a Queen, to say this was definitely treason, and punishable by death.

It was one thing to suspect Anne of sleeping with these young men, and another thing to prove it. However, standards of proof in Henry’s time weren’t quite what they are today. And, anyone could be made to confess anything if they were put on the rack, which they were in Henry’s time if they didn’t say what law enforcers wanted them to say. Indeed, the law enforcers of Henry’s time had a freedom of action that would make today’s law enforcers green with envy.

Hence Anne, and the young men she allegedly slept with, were always going to have their work cut out for them if they were to avoid an unpleasant fate.

One of the things reading “Bring Up The Bodies” may do for you is make you glad you didn’t live in the England of Henry the Eighth, even if you were Henry himself.


  1. I have not read either of these but, having read the reviews for Wolf Hall, I admire your persistence. I doubt I have that mental suppleness or stamina.

    On the other hand, CJ Sansom's historical thrillers set in Tudor England are a highly digestible insight into the life and legal environment of the times and compelling entertainment.

  2. Hilary Mantel in both these novels creates believable characters and atmosphere. These make them worth the effort to read. So I recommend them to you

    I'll be reading the next novel in this series when it appears.