I read ‘Wolf Hall‘ nearly a year ago and to be honest, I can’t remember a great deal about the actual content of the story and had to force myself to finish it. Although the book was undoubtedly a quality piece of historical fiction, my main gripe about it was that there were too many characters and unless you have studied early sixteenth century British history in considerable depth then it is very hard to keep track of exactly who is who. However, although ‘Bring Up the Bodies’ also has a large cast of characters, this instalment of the trilogy is set over a much narrower time period (one year rather than three decades) and the story of Anne Boleyn’s downfall is likely to be much more familiar to readers than Thomas Cromwell’s early years (at least it was to me anyway). The fact that it’s over 200 pages shorter than ‘Wolf Hall’ also helps a lot.
Consequently, I found myself being effortlessly dragged in to the story of ‘Bring Up the Bodies’ more easily than I thought I would having put off reading this book for months. The plot picks up where ‘Wolf Hall’ left off in 1535 as court intrigue begins to mount over Anne Boleyn’s fate as her failure to produce a male heir for Henry and alleged affairs with other men land her in serious trouble. Cromwell is trying to get rid of her while dealing with his own feelings for Jane Seymour who also happens to be the king’s new love interest. With historical fiction, the outcome of the story is never going to be a huge surprise but Mantel’s interpretation of events is always intriguing, brilliantly crafted and genuinely gripping. Second books in trilogies are often a disappointing bridging device towards the epic grand finale but ‘Bring Up the Bodies’ stands out as a great work in its own right.
If you enjoyed ‘Wolf Hall’, you will not be disappointed by ‘Bring Up the Bodies’. If, like me, you struggled a bit with ‘Wolf Hall’, you might actually prefer ‘Bring Up the Bodies’ which is a lot more focused than the first book of the trilogy and more readable than you might think. Having finally read it myself after months of hype, I now appreciate why this book has been nominated for pretty much every literary award going over the last few months. Does it have a good chance of winning the Women’s Prize for Fiction this week? I certainly think it does.