Friday, June 8, 2012

Bring Up the Bodies

I could not hope that the sequel to Hilary Mantel's masterpiece, Wolf Hall, would live up to that extraordinary novel, and for a good three-fourths of the new book my expectations were confirmed. After Wolf Hall's expansive canvas-- its virtuosic blend of history, politics, and theology, in which we come to know a most extraordinary man, Thomas Cromwell, through his inner longings as well as his outward dealings with a larger-than life historical cast: Henry VIII, Anne Boleyn, Thomas More-- well, suffice to say that Bring Up the Bodies is in many ways less ambitious, more constricted. After all, the simple problem is right in front of our faces: Anne must go, but how? In solving the problem, our hero unquestionably emerges a less sympathetic character than he was in Wolf Hall. Meanwhile, the palace intrigue begins to drag, just a bit. But then, the accusations and the trials... the narrative accelerates toward its brutal and shocking conclusion. I trust it is not a spoiler to say that the execution of Anne is, for me, the most chilling four pages I have ever read in any novel.

In the brief denouement, our protagonist, a monster whom we still find admirable, even likeable, reflects that he is "stuck like a limpet to the future." So typical of this writer at the peak of her considerable powers: even as we understand the truth, we also understand the irony; for though he is stuck to the future, Cromwell is no limpet, but to the contrary, a man in constant motion. History tells us that this life force must come to a violent end, a future any reader of these wonderful books must surely dread.

1 comment:

  1. It better be good... I have requested Wolf Hall from my local public library. Can;t be worse than the latest space opera I read by Iaian Banks...