In the sequel to the Booker prize winning Wolf Hall, Thomas Cromwell has enabled King Henry to marry Anne Boleyn but not everything has worked out as he had hoped. Although Anne has given birth to the Princess Elizabeth, she's had many miscarriages and seems unable to bring a child to term. Worse, the English people haven't accepted Anne as rightful Queen and relations with Rome are at an all time low. When Henry spends time at Wolf Hall and notices Jane Seymour, Cromwell seizes his chance to both help the King and take revenge on those who have acted against him in the past. As he works to bring about the final days of Anne Boleyn and her courtiers, Cromwell makes new allies and seeks even greater power.
I should start this review by mentioning that I was ambivalent towards Wolf Hall. I know it was loved by many bloggers but I found it a stuffy and tedious read that was hard to get through. I'm pleased to report that many things that I found difficult about Wolf Hall were not present in Bring Up The Bodies; the pacing was tighter, the pronoun use was clearer and there was more action in the story. Like Wolf Hall, one thing I admired was how Mantel has taken a well known and much written about period of history and made it fresh and relevant. There is no screen of sentimentality, it feels as though Mantel is writing about how it must have been like to actually live then, rather than just look back on it.
Thomas Cromwell is a fascinating character. I admired his slyness and intelligence in Wolf Hall, but he takes it to new levels in Bring Up The Bodies. It becomes clear that this is a man who never forgets a thing, who watches all of those around him and is always poised, waiting for the right moment to strike at his enemies. This can come across as downright chilling;
"Would Norris understand if he spelled it out? He needs guilty men. So he has found men who are guilty. Though perhaps not guilty as charged."
Overall, there was much I admired about Bring Up The Bodies. In my opinion, it was a tighter, more successful novel than Wolf Hall. But despite admiring the characterisation and the writing, reading this book just wasn't a pleasurable experience for me. I've been thinking about it over the last few days and I can't quite put my finger on why, but reading Bring Up The Bodies was an effort. I never wanted to pick the book up and it seemed to take forever to get through it. Enjoyment is such a big part of the reading experience for me, so even though I admired the book, it fell short at this vital hurdle. I know I'm in a minority on this one, but I didn't enjoy reading it, it just didn't 'click' with me. I doubt I'll pick up the third volume in the series when it is released.
First Published: 2012
Score: 3.5 out of 5