Loads of Learned Lumber

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Hilary Mantel, _Bring Up the Bodies_

PAINS ME TO say this, but it's not nearly as good as Wolf Hall. There's a certain dumbing-down, most noticeable in the constant yet superfluous indication "he, Cromwell" in spots where in Wolf Hall Mantel trusted the reader to bear in mind that the fiction was from Cromwell's point of view.

The main problem, though, is that Cromwell is static in this second volume.  Wolf Hall gave us the resources, strategies, setbacks, and triumphs of the humbly born Cromwell rising to become the second most powerful man in England; it unforgettably depicted a figure who is peripheral in most histories of the period as the first Modern Man.

Bring Up the Bodies does not add much nuance to the portrait. He's a power at the beginning of the novel and a power at the end, having once again managed the feat of getting one Queen of England out the door and a new one crowned. His execution of this task is interesting to watch, but he's done it before, and his repeating it does not (yet) materially much affect his circumstances.

Similarly, he once again sets up some enemies for a fatal fall, but what happens to Brereton, Rochford, et al. hardly matches the catastrophe of Sir Thomas More (in Wolf Hall) for intellectual drama. Mantel does an interesting job of presenting how Cromwell might have read Anne Boleyn, but Cromwell himself is the real revelation in these novels, and in this second installment not that much more is revealed.

Not that I won't be getting the third installment the instant it appears. That one will be about Cromwell's fall--and the novelist who gave us the best extant fictional account of Robespierre knows how to do a fall.

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