“You can be merry with the king, you can share a joke with him. But as Thomas More used to say, it's like sporting with a tamed lion. You tousle its mane and pull its ears, but all the time you're thinking, those claws, those claws, those claws.”
I broke a rule. The books I’ve decided to read this year have been ones that have come straight out of ‘1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die’, all classics in their own right spanning generations and genres to offer a view of the crème de la crème of literature and my thoughts concerning them. Well, something like that. I like to think of it as sad old me, in a darkly lit room huddled over hard-going tomes that everyone says they’ve read though never quite got round to it, then again typing up reviews of them all when I know that homework beckons and I know that no-one will read them anyway. But that’s cynicism. I’m good at cynicism, but it’s not always productive, as in this instance. But I’m going off topic- I broke a rule, which we’ve already established. This, my fifth book of 2013, has not come out of the pages of ‘1001 Books’ but in all fairness it has come off the prize lists of lots of literary awards and I must say that it’s probable that it may very well be on the classics list in time to come. It is already sure to go down in history, with the author being the first British author and first woman to be awarded two Man Booker Prizes, as well as being the first to win with two consecutive novels. The first book in Hilary Mantel’s trilogy, ‘Wolf Hall’ won the same plaudits in 2009 and though I haven’t read it yet, if it’s sequel is anything to go by I’ll definitely be picking it up soon.
This, the second book of the Thomas Cromwell trilogy, is set in Tudor England, more precisely in the court of King Henry VIII, through the eyes of his consort Thomas Cromwell. From humble origins as a blacksmith’s son, Cromwell is now a fully fledged member of the King’s council and his most trusted adviser who foresees all that goes on in the lion’s den that is Henry’s court. Navigating the politics and miasma of gossip of Tudor times, his tribulations become even more when Anne Boleyn loses favour with the king, who now shows more interest in plain Jane Seymour than in her. When dirty black lies about her spread and the skeletons embedded in her closets are revealed to the bare light of day, it seems ever more likely that her days are numbered and that the chopping block beckons. As affairs get even murkier and true loyalties are revealed, neither king nor consort will emerge from the bloody theatre of Anne’s final days unscathed.
I don’t think it would be necessary to read ‘Wolf Hall’ before ‘Bring Up the Bodies’(I didn’t) and many of the reviews proclaim it to be just as good as a stand-alone novel as it does as a sequel. But there’s such wit and intellect behind the words on the page, almost as if they leap right off it and that you are there watching the deals being made and the plans being executed. Mantel is a writer of unique genius, rightfully recognised by awards, critics and readers alike. Her novel truly is an amazing literary accomplishment, and you don’t have to even be a fan of history to enjoy it. In fact, it’s an oddly modern novel for one set in the sixteenth century, exploring what still shocks us today and I think that though the prose may be quite hard to read at times, that everyone should read it. You. Yes, you. Read it. Go on, read it. You won’t regret it.
‘Bring Up the Bodies’ is available on Amazon in paperback (£6.49) and on Kindle (£9.99)