Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel

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.

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15 Comments

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15 responses to “Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel

  1. Great review. Thanks!

    Here’s a question I’ve been asked a lot at the store: Do you think someone could read and enjoy Bring Up the Bodies without having read Wolf Hall?

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    • Considering I really don’t remember much about the plot or secondary characters of Wolf Hall then yes, I would say that Bring Up the Bodies does work as a stand-alone book that can be enjoyed on its own. On the other hand, maybe it was because I had read Wolf Hall first and got used to Mantel’s complex style of writing that I was able to appreciate Bring Up the Bodies more.

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  2. Glad you enjoyed it, I thought the opening page was just brilliant. I think it stands a good chance for the Wome’s fiction prize too.

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  3. I think this’ll be the most popular of the trilogy due to the familiarity of the storyline. Like you say, it’s not essential to have read Wolf Hall but it helps to get used to the writing style and also Wolf Hall gives more background on Cromwell’s early life so we understand him and his rise to a position of power and, crucially, we learn to like him. I think it stands a very good chance of winning the Women’s prize too.

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  4. I’ve been intrigued about this book ever since it started winning so many awards. I’m just not sure if historical fiction is my cup of tea… If it wins the Women’s Prize then we’ll be reviewing it, although I think I’ll have to read it even if it doesn’t, I’m just so curious about it!
    Gemma, xo

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  5. I got excited about this this book when I heard Mantel give an interview about her research and writing process. Unfortunately, reading Wolf Hall first sapped a lot of my enthusiasm. I’m glad to hear that Bring Up the Bodies is more focused (and that I don’t need to re-read Wolf Hall for a refresher)– I can put it back on my queue. Thanks for the review!

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  6. Wolf hall suffered from slightly confusing direction to who was talking, it began to irritate and I wonder at the hype its received, great review but I may give this one a miss.

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  8. I haven’t read anything by Mantel but all of you who have say that her work is quite complex and demanding in that either you need to pay lots of attention when reading and or that you can only read a few pages a day. Therefore, I think her work is both attractive and scary! But none of your reviews are negative, so, I should trust you 🙂

    Thanks for adding another “vote” to my “I have to read Mantel” count!

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