Hilary Mantel won the Booker prize two years In a row, first for WOLF HALL, and then for this novel, BRING UP THE BODIES, which is the sequel.
The books follow the story of Cromwell , a man of lowly birth who rose to be one of Henry VII’s main advisers, helping him from one wife to the next. WOLF HALL covered the rise of Anne Bolyen; BRING UP THE BODIES tells the story of her fall.
One thing I find very enjoyable about these novels is the way in which they grow out a single national sensibility. They are just drenched in a kind of Englishness, a single way of looking at the world, which is I think - with international travel, immigration, and all the other flotsam and jetsam of globalization - growing increasingly rare. Here she is on the spring:
We are coming to the sweet season of the year, when the air is mild and the leaves pale, and lemon cakes are flavoured with lavender: egg custards, barely set, infused with a sprig of basil; elderflowers simmered in a sugar syrup and poured over halved strawberries.
It’s just gorgeously written, sentence for sentence; here’s shutting up the house
And now night falls on Austin Friars. Snap of bolts, click of key in the lock, rattle of strong chain across wicket, and the great bar fallen across the main gate. The boy Dick Purser lets out the watchdogs. The pounce and race, they snap at the moonlight, they flop under the fruit trees, heads on paws and ears twitching. When the house is quiet – when all his houses are quiet – then dead people walk about on the stairs.
It’s a beautiful evocation of a very detailed imagined world, Cromwell providing a kind of window on the sixteenth century. If I have a difficulty with the book it is that the world is better imagined than Cromwell himself. He really is a window, with little internal life – or little that I cared about. These ‘dead people on the stairs’ are his deceased children, who we keep going back to, and about whom I did not care. This is a rare false note in a very lovely novel.
It’s also very funny. Here we are on a scandal:
And if all the people who say they were there had really been there, then the dregs of London would have drained to the one spot, the goals emptied of thieves, the beds empty of whores, and all the lawyers standing on the shoulders of the butchers to get a better look.And here’s a random man:
. . a man who stands by, smirking and stroking his beard; he thinks he looks enigmatic, but instead he looks as if he’s pleasuring himself