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Superb book - simply wonderful!,
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This review is from: Bring Up the Bodies (Hardcover)From the opening line "His children are falling", we are transported into the complex piece of machinery that is Thomas Cromwell's mind. Following on from Wolf Hall, this book covers his masterminding of the downfall of the very woman whose path to the throne as Henry the Eighth's second wife, had been facilitated by his hard work and was his triumph as much as Anne Boleyn's. The masterful prose and highly innovative style of the story telling, takes us deeply into the machinations which had to be gone through on a daily basis in order for 'Cremuel' (Anne's Frenchified mispronunciation)to satisfy an absolute monarch whose conscience in matters matrimonial came and went like the tides.
So now, having secured the divorce from Katherine of Aragon, thus initiating the devastation of the Church in England, and overseen the annointing of the new queen, Anne Boleyn, in a process which saw many good men die for their refusal to accept her, Cromwell now has to put the whole process into reverse in order to remove the obstetrically challenged second wife, who produces only one daughter and miscarried sons, in place of the nursery full of heirs that she had promised to Henry in their long, passionate courtship. Cromwell's methods are ruthless in the extreme, and take no account of friendships, or indeed the innocence of many of the men who stand accused of adulterous treason with the Queen. The pressure he exerts, the relentless pressure placed upon him, have rendered him something of a split personality. Pitiless fixer for his mercurial King, yet a kindly mentor to young scholars, and bereaved, indeed devastated, widower who has lost both wife and daughters, leaving him one precious son. We are subtly shown how Henry longs for this single simple thing, that he cannot (apparently) have - a healthy, legitimate, male child. Of course, lacking today's knowledge of human fertility, such problems were always the fault of the woman! Thus, Cromwell now has to"fix it" for Jane Seymour - new woman, new womb - and so we try again!! Pale, pliant Jane, with her ambitious family pushing her forward, must now take on the burden of Henry and his dynastic expectations.
The brilliance of this work is to show us Cromwell's duality; showing that he, as much as the King himself, was worthy of friendship and love, but also an efficient destroyer when occasion demanded. Of the two, man and master, Cromwell is the one who appears most in control of his often powerful emotions, and yet, and yet, when the King demands to be free of Anne, the task of providing evidence of her misconduct simultanously provides Cromwell with the perfect opportunity to be revenged on some of the men who had vilified and mocked his late mentor, Cardinal Wolsey - every cloud and all that!!!
We know the story of Anne's downfall, and we are shown with absolute dispassion how it was engineered, which is Mantel's unique achievement. There is no faux Shakespearean language, and the characters are allowed the idiosyncracies of speech and behaviour which every age, ancient or modern, possesses. This makes them very immediate as human beings. I read this book quickly when it first arrived. It is now never far from my hand, as I re-read it more slowly and savour what is historical fiction at its finest. Can't wait for the 3rd part of the trilogy, as I am now experiencing symptoms of Mantel withdrawal.