If possible, better than its predecessor Wolf Hall, Hilary Mantel‘s Bring up the Bodies continues to follow the harrowing career of Thomas Cromwell as he orchestrates, navigates, and patiently out-waits and outwits everyone at the court of Henry VIII.
Mantel does more interesting things with her narrative, a sort of third-person singular from Cromwell’s point of view, infusing tension into the well-known-to-everybody arc of Anne Boleyn’s reign. The dead still appear in the cast of characters and Henry is still a bit of a wild, uncontrollable enigma, for all of Cromwell’s efforts. He tries to read the king’s unspoken commands and bring about the sovereign’s conflicting desires while keeping himself and his allies above the fray. But Cromwell is a deep thinker and a somewhat unreliable narrator: as readers we often can’t see the chess-like moves he is setting up until the pieces fall and he sweeps the board once again.
This book begins in sunlight but quickly settles into stormy darkness. Almost the only relief from constant tension is Cromwell’s bustling, festive household, still his sanctuary from the roiling halls of power at Hampton Court and Westminster. Booker Prize again for Mantel (Wolf Hall won previously) and well-deserved. Evocative, believable, and human. I not only purchased this in a bookstore/draft beer pub (not in pasadena, alas) but was able to see Holbein’s portrait of Cromwell while reading it! All good!