Hilary Mantel is amazing. Here is my evidence. I didn’t even really want to read Wolf Hall until I was reading it. Then I LOVED it. Then I downloaded Bring up the Bodies as soon as I sanely could, to start listening to that. And again I loved it. But here’s how I know how ridiculously good she is. I physically miss Thomas Cromwell on my drives now. And when I ponder how long I have to wait (2 years) for the final book of the series (in which–this is not a spoiler; it’s history– he is going to DIE), I say to myself “wait, I heard she wrote some 900 page novel about the French Revolution, I could listen to that!” I’m working on talking myself out of that for the moment, in the interest of all those crazy goals I set earlier in the year, but, really, someone has to be pretty fantastic for you to say “hey, let me run out and pick up that 900 page historical novel.” Or at least for me to say it. But I meant it. And I’ll probably still give in and do it.
No progress on goals again, except that at some point I am confident this will end up on the 1001 Books list. I just have to wait the editors out. After all, both books in this series have won the Booker and been shortlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction (formerly the Orange Prize). My guess is 1001 editors will wait until all three are out and put them on as a set. But maybe I’m just rationalizing. Either way, do yourself a favor and read these books–they are absolutely worth it.
Here is my Goodreads review of Bring Up the Bodies:
“If you intend to kill me in public, and mount a show, be quick. Or I may die of grief alone in this room.”
He shakes his head. “You’ll live.” He once thought it himself, that he might die of grief. For his wife, his daughters, his sisters, his father and master the cardinal. But the pulse, obdurate, keeps its rhythm. You think you cannot keep breathing, but your ribcage has other ideas, rising and falling, emitting sighs. You must thrive in spite of yourself. And so that you may do it, God takes out your heart of flesh and gives you a heart of stone.
This sums up the change in Thomas Cromwell from Wolf Hall into this novel. He is a colder, more calculating man, tasting vengeance against those who had humiliated and caused the death of his mentor Cardinal Wolsey. He also doesn’t have the same opportunities to exercise his gentler side. His family is essentially gone: wife and daughters dead, son, nephew, and ward all grown and living outside his house. His life is really all business now. There are other changes too. He is rethinking the nature of his relationship with his late father, which is fascinating to watch. And we begin to see the politics of the court shift, and while on the surface, his career is still on the rise, we begin to see cracks through which he will eventually fall.
Mantel is tremendously talented. I finished this book and yearned to be able to start the next one right away. Unfortunately, it is not due out for 2 more years. I will try to be patient, and I will have to explore some other novels by Hilary Mantel in the meantime.