Posted by: Jeanie F | May 4, 2012

Bring Up the Bodies: The Review


You may recall that one short month ago I had nothing to read. On April 5 I wrote, “I need something that is going to transport me into another world and really grab me.”

Bring Up the Bodies is proof that when we cry out in the wilderness, the [universe, God, karma, Yaweh, etc.] listens and responds. I have been grabbed and transported to the not-so-merry Olde England of Henry VIII, as seen through the manipulative genius of Thomas Cromwell, as seen through the literary genius of HilaryMantel.

My initial enthusiasm for the book arose from my interest in the story of Anne Boleyn but, as you will learn if you choose to readBringing Up the Bodies, the story centers more on Cromwell and his political machinations than that of Anne Boleyn. We all know her story – she stole Henry from Katherine and then lost him (and her head) to Jane Seymour.

As Cromwell – the narrator –  observes, “But look, never mind all this. Queens come and go.”

What we learn, something I never considered and may or may not be true (but does make a great story), is Cromwell engineered much of what happened between the autumn of 1535 and May 17, 1536 in order to (1) avenge the death of Cardinal Wolsey and (2) remove a few of his (Cromwell’s) enemies. Although in his role as Master Secretary you would think him securely placed – he had nearly unlimited access to Henry’s money, his correspondence, his secrets – Cromwell observes:

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.

And he’s right to be wary, not only of the king but of men who profess to be his friends. At the end of the day, with Anne and her accused lovers tried and executed for treason, he overhears his friend, Thomas Wriothesley, say, “. . . if this is what Cromwell does to the cardinal’s lesser enemies, what will he do by and by to the king himself?”

Cromwell responds by exhorting his friends, “Drink my health.”

Oh, Mantel’s prose is so confident, her style so spot-on, that I struggled to remember that Cromwell  himself wasn’t writing the pages. I believe that she has probably captured the spirit of the man: brilliant, manipulative, loyal, acerbic, untrustworthy and, above all, complex.

I am thrilled to learn that this is the second installation to what is intended to be a trilogy. I hope Mantel’s at her desk, working on Part III, at this very minute!

Grade: A+

There is a wonderful audio edition of this book read by Simon Vance. You can listen to a sample here.


  1. Finally, the library delivered – and it’s a hot pick (only a week to read it – but that’s not a problem.) Ever since I read your review and listened a little to the audio, I have been patiently waiting. Looking forward to holing up and enjoying!

    • Stop wasting time writing and get reading! 🙂 I can’t wait to hear/read what you think of it!

      • I’m in it – on my – cannot get away from thinking Cromwell is someone I once worked with – more later – back to reading.

      • Oh dear! That CANNOT be a good thing!

      • Just finished – WOW! You were right about it being worth waiting for, but it will be a longer wait for the next one. Let me know if you find anything as good in the meantime 🙂
        Review tomorrow.

  2. NPR has named Bringing Up the Bodies the “one must-read of the [Summer] season”. Read the review at

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