Double Review: Wolf Hall & Bring Up the Bodies, Hilary Mantel

First things first: I was much amused that my copy of Wolf Hall had a sticker on the front reading “From the author of Bring Up the Bodies!” The first book in the series, recommended to readers of the second.

“Some of these things are true and some of them lies. But they are all good stories.”

Wolf Hall is the story of Thomas Cromwell, great-great-great uncle to the more-famous Oliver Cromwell. Thomas rose from obscurity and the peasantry to become, firstly, the Cardinal Wolsey’s problem solver, and, after the Cardinal’s downfall, King Henry VIII’s Chief Minister, Lord of the Privy Seals, Chancellor of the Exchequer and too many other titles to go into.

Wolf Hall documents the downfall of the Cardinal, and the rise of Cromwell. of Henry VIII, and I love the fact that these novels present him in a sympathetic (ish) light – for so long we’ve looked down on Henricus Tudor as being some kind of monster (as he turned out to be), rather than as a complicated, three-dimensional human.

It is a brilliant character study, exquisitely formed and researched, and it finally gives this man, of whom so little good is written, a place in the sun, which he gained, despite his birth to an abusive blacksmith. I cried, which is something I’ve not done too often while reading. Mantel shows her power as an author throughout this novel.

“The trouble with England, he thinks, is that it’s so poor in gesture. We shall have to develop a hand signal for ‘Back off, our prince is fucking this man’s daughter.’ He is surprised that the Italians have not done it. Though perhaps they have, and he just never caught on.”

I liked Wolf Hall so much that I raced out and wrapped my paws around its sequel, Bring Up the Bodies.

Now that Queen Katherine is deposed, and her marriage to Henry VIII annulled, Henry has married Anne Boleyn. Bring Up the Bodies tells of her downfall, at the hands of Thomas Cromwell, in a I created you, I can destroy you fashion, after Anne fails to give Henry a male heir. Again the writing is brilliant, deeply researched and superbly written, even though history has told us how things end for the scheming Queen.

“He needs guilty men. So he has found men who are guilty. Though perhaps not guilty as charged.”

Absolutely brilliant, are these novels, and I highly recommend them, they are fantastic.

They have certainly set the bar for historical fiction very, very high.

Excellent.

Last things last: I’m pissed that this series isn’t finished – now I have to wait for the third book in the series, The Mirror and the Light. This is why I haven’t read any of the Game of Thrones novels – I have no patience, when it comes to waiting for books.

I WANT TO BINGE ON HILARY MANTEL’S WORDS!

 

“You can have a silence full of words. A lute retains, in its bowl, the notes it has played. The viol, in its strings, holds a concord. A shriveled petal can hold its scent, a prayer can rattle with curses; an empty house, when the owners have gone out, can still be loud with ghosts.”

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