'Bring Up' the Books: Top Titles by Hilary Mantel
The latest jewel in novelist Hilary Mantel's crown is being named to TIME's "100 Most Influential People in the World." The honor comes on the heels of being awarded the 2012 Booker Prize for "Bring Up the Bodies"--now out in paperback--which followed the Booker Prize–winning "Wolf Hall" in Mantel's trilogy about Thomas Cromwell, the right-hand man of King Henry VIII. Mantel is the first woman--and the first Brit--to win the heralded prize twice, and she's also the only writer to do so with consecutive books in a series. Just as remarkably: She's managed to make Thomas Cromwell sexy. Check out these Mantel must-reads.
King Henry VIII is justly notorious for the way he shaped the monarchy according to his whims. But the man behind some of his most audacious moves--including helping to separate England from the Catholic Church--was Thomas Cromwell. Mantel complicates the much-vilified figure of Cromwell and shows that he was equal parts charmer, political genius and bully.
"Bring Up the Bodies" picks up where "Wolf Hall" leaves off, describing one of the most riveting parts of the Cromwell saga: the downfall of Ann Boleyn. King Henry VIII battles for seven years for the right to marry Ann, but then, alas, he loses interest. After having masterminded the king’s divorce--and changing the shape of England in the process--it's up to Cromwell to dispose of her.
Imagine "The Exorcist" transplanted to the English countryside and made darkly funny. Protagonist Alison is a reluctant, very large psychic who passes along inconsequential messages from the dead to the living. Colette is her devoted-yet-wary assistant who accompanies her while Alison travels to that other world, the place "beyond black."
In 1780s London, some would consider O'Brien a freak of nature, and he's literally banking on that. A giant from Ireland who's full of songs and reinvented fairy tales, O'Brien strides into town to see if he can exhibit his size for money. There he meets famed anatomist John Hunter, who lusts after O'Brien's corpse and the scientific discoveries it promises.
Mantel turns to more recent history with a coming-of-age story set in 1960s London. Carmel McBain grew up in a depressed mill town near Liverpool and, as soon as she could, left for the promise of excitement in the capital. In college on a scholarship, Carmel's education also involves real-life courses in sex, friendship, love and birth control.
As she does with the figure of Cromwell in "Wolf Hall," Mantel reimagines the life of Maximilien Robespierre, the notorious, decapitating villain of the French Revolution and the ensuing Reign of Terror in "A Place of Greater Safety." She couples his story with that of his friend Camille Desmoulins, a charming, untrustworthy, bisexual pamphleteer.
Based on Mantel's own experience in the Middle East, this is the story of Frances Shore, who moves to Saudi Arabia with her husband. She's sure that with care she'll get along with her Muslim neighbors, but the realities are more complicated. Written 24 years ago, this Mantel novel still feels timely.
Hilary Mantel grew up convinced she could do anything. That shifted when, early in her marriage, she began to feel a persistent pain that resulted in destructive drug use, unhelpful psychiatry and a dramatic surgery. The ordeal nevertheless left her creativity intact: "Giving Up the Ghost" is her memoir of finding solace in writing.