Tony Grist (poliphilo) wrote,
Tony Grist

Bring Up The Bodies: Hilary Mantel

Wolf Hall was Mantel's widescreen moment, the moment she stepped up into a larger world- as (for comparison) Waugh did when he moved from the early satires to Brideshead Revisited and The Sword of Honour trilogy. If British authors attempted Great British Novels the way Americans attempt Great American Novels this would have been the point at which she declared herself a contender. The humour and grotesquerie are still there (the goblins still caper) but subdued now to a panoramic vision.

Before I read it I made the mistake of supposing a book about Tudor England was bound to be escapist (you'll find that opinion set down somewhere in this blog.) Stupid of me. Wolf Hall goes back into the past the better to reflect on the things that are the making of any age- family, sex, friendship, politics. It's not a safe book. How foolhardy brave- in an age that despises politics as never before- to make a politician your hero- and not any politician but the most universally hated-  most capable- politician in British history. Mantel's Cromwell does bad things, but is not a bad man. Or is he? His home life ( like Goebbels') is exemplary. By showing us Henrician England through his eyes Mantel makes us complicit in its crimes. Cromwell tears down, he kills (but always humanely if he can); he serves his king and his own interest: he sees off the Catholic Middle ages and forwards the Reformation. He is history's knowing instrument, the miller of God who grinds exceedingly small. The times demanded. What else could he have done?

In Wolf Hall the Boleyns came up. In Bring Up The Bodies they go down. A middle volume always suffers from having no beginning and no end, from not being quite a book in its own right- but there is no faltering here in pace or commitment. There are set pieces that take your breath away.  When the trilogy is complete I will re-read it with the care it demands, taking better notice of the complex subtleties of plotting and patterning. Right now I'm just greedy for more. The writing has a lapidary dazzle. 

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