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Bring Up the Bodies Hardcover – May 8, 2012
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Amazon Exclusive: Hilary Mantel on How She Wrote Bring Up the Bodies
Origins of the Book
Bring Up the Bodies is the second part of my trilogy about Thomas Cromwell, chief minister to Henry VIII. I have been interested in Cromwell for years, and wanted to get beyond the negative portrayal of him in popular history and fiction. He was a ruthless man, certainly, but no more so than other contemporary politicians; and in Henry, a man of violent temper, he had a very demanding employer. As soon as you get back beyond the prejudices about Cromwell, you find a clever, enterprising, resilient and optimistic man, with a story well worth telling. He was at the center of Henry's court for almost ten years, and when you look at events from his point of view, they seem very different from the stories of the Tudor court to which we've grown accustomed.
Originally I thought I would tell the story in just one book. But as I made progress with Wolf Hall, I discovered the richness and depth of the material. I was glad to alter my plans. Now the project will reach a conclusion in The Mirror & The Light, the book that is still ahead of me.
How is it different from Wolf Hall?
Wolf Hall takes in a huge span of time, describing Cromwell's early life, and reaching back into the previous century, to show the forces that shaped England before he was born. The foreground action of the book occupies several years, ending in July 1535, on the day of the execution of Cromwell's political antagonist, Thomas More.
The action of Bring Up The Bodies occupies only nine months, and within that nine months it concentrates on the three weeks in which Henry's second wife, Anne Boleyn, is arrested, tried and executed for treason. So it is a shorter, more concentrated read. There are no diversions once the plot against Anne begins to accelerate, and the tension builds as her death approaches.
It's quite possible to read Bring Up The Bodies without reading Wolf Hall. It makes sense in its own terms. But I think a reader will get a deeper experience by starting with the first book and seeing the characters evolve.
Space: What's on your desk, in your office, on the walls, outside your window? Describe your writing space. Where do you go when you can't write there?
My office is in my apartment on the East Devon coast. Before my desk there is a big window, and beyond that a shingle beach and the sea. On my large pine desk there's just my laptop, my working papers, and my diary, plus a silver dial that tells the time in the world's major cities. I have a mouse mat with the Holbein image of Thomas Cromwell on it; my husband magicked this up from somewhere. I keep my pens and markers in a china pot with a picture of Henry VIII, which came from the National Portrait Gallery in London. On my left there is a whiteboard which I use to plan each chapter as I write, and also to scribble down any fleeting thoughts; if I'm elsewhere in the apartment it's the whiteboard I run to, to catch a phrase I'm afraid might slip away. I can write anywhere, though; I long ago learned to write and polish a paragraph in my head. And I do a lot of work in my notebooks when I'm travelling, shuttling up to London on the train. I write in the car too; in the passenger seat, I should add.
Soundtrack: What/who do you listen to? Why? How? (headphones, computer, radio?)
I can hear the sea. Nothing else is as good as that. Noise doesn't distract me, necessarily, but if I put on music I quickly blank it out.
Tools: Pens? Notebook? Computer (Mac or PC)? Special software?
Most of my work originates in longhand. I like writing by hand but I have 2 sorts of handwriting; one is quite decorative, and the other is as plain as possible and as legible as possible, my note-taking hand which I use when I copy from a document. At a certain stage I rip up my notebooks and shuffle the pages into some sort of order in ring-binders; from those I work straight on to my pc. I’ve been writing on the screen since 1986, at which point I was into my third book. But I'm old enough to remember the toil in the days of typewriters and messy, smudgy carbon copies.
Words: What are you reading? Do you read anyone to prime the pump, so to speak? Or to escape your own writing?
On the whole I prefer not to read fiction when I'm hard at work on my own writing, because I find it difficult to make the commitment a novel requires, to enter into someone els's imaginary world. Instead I devour newspapers and read books on medicine, psychology, social studies. But much of my reading is tied to research for my Cromwell novels. If I get stuck while I'm writing, if my sentences feel arid, then reading poetry sometimes works. It restores some essential sense of rhythm.
Inspiration: Do you do anything to get inspired? Exercise? Walk? Nap? Hobbies?
Two almost infallible methods for me. If I'm stuck part way through developing a scene, I get into the shower. When you are dripping water, that's when the words start to flow: at the moment of maximum inconvenience. For bigger problems, going to sleep is good. Fresh material swims up as I wake.
If everything is out of proportion, if I'm overwhelmed and mentally tired, a walk by the sea helps. I've always wanted to live by the sea and thought it would be good for me, and the last year's work on Bring Up The Bodies seems to have proved it. This time last year, the book was just a few boxes of notes.
Photo credit: Francesco Guidicini
In the sequel [to Wolf Hall], Bringing Up the Bodies, which transpires over the year following the execution of More, there is little to mitigate Cronwell's chief task, which is to arrange for the king's wife to be killed at his behest . . . The novel's pace is a slow creep of ghoulish inevitability. The rot seeps and spreads, and Cromwell gains in menace what he loses in sympathy. — Jessica Winter
Top customer reviews
This novel is the second book of a trilogy based on the life of Thomas Cromwell. Hilary Mantel's first book, Wolf Hall: A Novel won the Man Booker Award, and deservedly so.
Whereas Wolf Hall covered a relatively long period of time - from Cromwell's humble and difficult upbringing to his becoming King Henry's closest confidant and Master Secretary - the action in this book covers just over a year. This novel begins in Sept. of 1535, and King Henry has been married to Anne Boleyn for just under 3 years. She has given birth to a daughter, Elizabeth, but like Queen Katharine before her she has failed to produce a male heir.
Anne Boleyn and her family have many enemies, both because of her haughty attitude and because of the circumstances of her marrying King Henry. England is in turmoil and deeply divided over Henry's break with the Vatican and over his controversial annulment to his beloved first wife, Katharine of Aragon. Tensions come to a head when Jane Seymour, one of Anne's ladies in waiting comes to the attention of King Henry, and then again when Anne miscarries a son on the same day Queen Katharine is buried. Henry wants out of his marriage and this does not bode well for Anne.
I think it was a wise idea to break up Cromwell's life into this trilogy. Although the time period in this book is short, it is an important time in history and one that is controversial and debated to this day. There are still open questions as to whether or not Anne Boleyn committed treason and adultery and whether or not Queen Katharine had consummated her marriage to King Henry's brother before he married her. I am not going to give away what Mantel surmises in this novel. It is part of the enjoyment in reading Bring in the Bodies to read that for yourself.
I loved Wolf Hall, and I may have even loved this novel a little more. In Wolf Hall sometimes it was hard to tell who's voice was narrating. This was not the case (for the most part) with this book. I never thought I'd be so entranced with the story of Thomas Cromwell's life, but Mantel has given us such an intimate and fascinating look at this man who played such a pivotal role in history. The Cromwell in these novels is smart, witty, and above all, very likable. And if at times in this novel the "likable" becomes a little strained, we still for the most part root for him.
I am writing this review at almost 2am because I could not put this book down. The prose is eloquent, the descriptions are evocative, and the reader will absolutely be transported back to sixteenth century Tudor England. You will also find yourself reading certain passages over and over again simply because they are so perfect. And did I mention that you will find yourself laughing out loud at times?
I cannot recommend this book enough. This series, so far, has become one of my favorites of all time. I am eagerly awaiting the conclusion to this trilogy, although I dread both the thought of it ending and then reading about what I know from history, must ultimately happen.
* If you're wondering whether you can read this book before reading Wolf Hall, I would say you could and this book stands on its own - but I recommend against it because there are certain references and flashbacks to events that happen in the first book that would be lost. To get the most out of Bring up the Bodies I would first read Wolf Hall, where you are first introduced to Thomas Cromwell and get to really understand who he is and how he became the man he did.
This book covers the approximate three year period of time during which Anne Boleyn was queen of England. Although it took seven years to marry King Henry, she was married only three years. She failed to produce a son, so Henry decided to take a new wife. This book explains in detail the plot to rid the kingdom of Anne. (Really, of all the Boleyns.)
While Ms. Mantel admits that this is not a history, per se, it is rather a story of what might have happened. There is no surviving transcript of Anne's trial. She was not allowed a defense attorney. We still don't know - not really - whether she was the wanton strumpet that Cromwell and the others hoped she was, or is she was much maligned.
This book illustrates clearly how powerful Thomas Cromwell became. He became a very wealthy man and had much property. He rose very high in Henry's court. He had absolute power - second only to Henry himself. It is awe inspiring to think just how powerful he became.
I simply cannot wait until the next book in the series is printed!! Please hurry, Ms. Mantel!
I can't wait for the third in the series, rumored to be coming in 2018.
I also highly recommend the PBS series, "Wolf Hall" which faithfully portrays both "Wolf Hall" and "Bring up the Bodies."