Fiction is fun, but don't mess with the history

Friday, July 27, 2012

Bring Up the Bodies, by Hilary Mantel

Detail from  Holbien's portrait of Thomas Cromwell 

Bring Up The Bodies is the second book of a planned trilogy of historical novels about Thomas Cromwell,  chief minister to Henry VIII of England. I departed from my focus on 18th-19th century American history to read Wolf Hall, first in the series, and liked it well enough to return for the second installment. In fact, both novels rate in the very top tier of my favorite historicals, earning straight 5's in my five criteria.

 In lieu of my own summarizing, here's an excerpt from an interview with author Hillary Mantel. The entire interview is available online at Amazon.

"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."

I suppose many will find these novels to be slow-paced, lacking in action and/or romance, bogged down in detail. For me, however, these are positive qualities, and the level of historical research is superb. Cromwell has usually been portrayed in a very negative manner; I found Mantel's more complex and balanced characterization both refreshing and compelling. Highly recommended for any who share my passion for the history in historical fiction. I look forward to the completion of the trilogy.

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