Monday, May 14, 2012

Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel

Writing a satisfying sequel can't be easy. However George R. R. Martin managed to do it for me three times - the first three sequels to Game of Thrones were all excellent. But alas, the most recent installment in his A Song of Ice and Fire series, A Dance with Dragons, fell completely flat. Martin did have very plausible extenuating circumstances - he was involved with the production of the HBO series of Game of Thrones, which was very well received.
Wolf Hall
was the prize winning historical novel by Hilary Mantel, a story set in the time of Henry VIII, which featured his very able functionary/henchman Thomas Cromwell. Wolf Hall brought us through the events of Henry's marriage to Anne Boleyn, ending portentously just prior to Henry's arrival at Wolf Hall, the home of the Seymour family and Jane, the next "winner" in Henry's ongoing wedding lottery.

Her next book Bring Up the Bodies covers the rest of Henry's calamitous marriage to Anne and his growing infatuation with Jane Seymour. Despite the high drama of the actual historical events, fodder for innumerable retellings historical and dramatic (I remember enjoying the film Anne of a Thousand Days long, long ago - it was panned by the critics, but I was young then and probably easier pleased than I would be today) Bring Up the Bodies was surprisingly unengaging. Perhaps it was because the focal character - Thomas Cromwell - was himself in a reasonably secure position during that period, so it lacked the propulsive forces of vulnerability and peril that, though I probably should be ashamed to admit it, usually work well enough for me. To be fair, Mantel is a very witty writer and flashes of that do appear in this book, though not as often as in the first one. Mantel is projecting a trilogy, and if we cheat and look ahead in the history books, Thomas Cromwell's further career ends up parlous indeed - so I will definitely give the author another chance when it comes out!