Charlotte Reads Classics

Slowly, slowly, she sipped a sentence.

Tag: Bring Up the Bodies

His children are falling from the sky.

I think I may have mentioned this every time I have written about Hilary Mantel or about a book by Hilary Mantel, but I’ll say it again: I LOVE HILARY MANTEL. I have to read all of her books or my life will be ruined. Bring Up the Bodies is about Thomas Cromwell and takes place during the nine months leading up to Anne Boleyn’s death. We all know Anne and Henry don’t live happily ever after tending to their enormous brood of sons so I’ll skip the plot and go straight for one of my favourite bits:

Once he had watched Liz making a silk braid. One end was pinned to the wall and on each finger of her raised hands she was spinning loops of thread, her fingers flying so fast he couldn’t see how it worked. ‘Slow down,’ he said, ‘so I can see how you do it,’ but she’d laughed and said, ‘I can’t slow down, if I stopped to think how I was doing it I couldn’t do it at all.’

This sums up what makes this book so fascinating – Mantel makes a point in Wolf Hall about the world not being run from where you think it is. Everyone is subject to scheming, underhand loyalties and bargaining; the Lords, the court and even the King. Cromwell seems to be right in the midst of it all and things always seem to be going his way, he controls court life with invisible strings. This book makes it seem like a dangerous time to be alive – even your thoughts can cost you your life.

I liked Bring Up the Bodies because it shows such a famous historical event from the perspective of a man we don’t pay much attention to. It also portrayed Jane Seymour with a focus she probably deserved, she was recognised by the King but a lot of modern historians keep her lost in Anne Boleyn’s shadow. I’m intrigued about the plot of the final book because my historical knowledge ends with the Kings and Queens and I’ve become quite attached to this version of Thomas Cromwell! There were times when I felt like Mantel didn’t add to what she’d achieved in Wolf Hall but the ending has left me completely desperate for more. In comparison with this book’s predecessor Mantel hasn’t lost her touch. She still controls language like no other writer, and builds up layer upon layer to a scene until it feels like you’re sitting on Cromwell’s shoulder.

Totally worth the wait.

Bliss and Blood

Being mostly a classics reader, there aren’t many brand new books I covet. However, Bring Up the Bodies, the sequel to Wolf Hall, is a date marked in my diary. (Yes, really.) Alas, the publication date isn’t for another two months, so that means reading other books by Hilary Mantel in preparation.

The Giant, O’Brien is the last (I think) of Mantel’s historical novels I had left to read. It’s a mix of science and superstition, set in eighteenth century Ireland. A rag tag band of men cross the Irish Sea to seek their fortune. With them is the Giant, Charles O’Brien, who has a kind of trade as a storyteller.

He mixed his tales like this: bliss and blood. The roof of gingerbread, then the slinking arrival of a wolf with a sweet tooth. The white-skinned, well-fleshed woman who turns to bone beneath a man’s caress; the lake where gold pieces bob, that drowns all who fish for them. Merit gains no reward, or duty done; the lucky prosper, and any of us could be that.

I didn’t find this book quite as accessible as her other novels, perhaps because it kept going off in unexpected directions. I felt that the plot was hidden by the language: as usual she has a beautiful turn of phrase, but sometimes that stood in the way of simplicity. Putting that to one side though, I did enjoy this book. The eighteenth century was coming alive in a way that made me appreciate just how difficult it was to survive back then. The historical detail, as you would expect, fascinating; especially when it comes to medicine and how scientific experiments were conducted (stealing bodies was something of an art form)!

Writing about The Giant, O’Brien has been tricky, because it left a feeling rather than something concrete. I’ll have to try some non-historical Hilary Mantel novels, not to mention a re-read of Wolf Hall.