Shortlisted for Winner of the 2012 Booker Prize, “Bring Up the Bodies” follows the Booker Prize–winning “Wolf Hall” in Hilary Mantel’s trilogy about Thomas Cromwell, the right-hand man of King Henry VIII. Here’s a selection of Mantel-written 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”
“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.”
“The Giant, O’Brien”
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 fairytales, 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.
“An Experiment in Love”
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.
“A Place of Greater Safety”
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.
“Eight Months on Ghazzah Street”
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, Mantel’s novel still feels timely today.
“Giving Up the Ghost”
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.
Updated on 10/17/12