May 20, 2012
Sunday Book Review: Mantel's New Novel
If you missed the first installment, Hilary Mantel's bestselling and Man Booker Prize winner, Wolf Hall, the second in the trilogy can nevertheless be started post-haste. It's the just-released Bringing Up The Bodies. Stellar reviews appear in the NYT, and LA Times. Novelist and intellectual Margaret Atwood, in The Guardian, noted that although this volume centers on the fall of Anne Boleyn, like its predecessor, it's really about "the deep, dark, labyrinthine, but strangely objective mind of Thomas Cromwell."
As Atwood wrote:
The historical Cromwell is an opaque figure, which is most likely why Mantel is interested in him: the less is truly known, the more room for a novelist. Cromwell rose from obscure and violent origins through a life abroad – sometime soldier, sometime merchant – to become England's top go-to man, the prime maker-and-breaker of fortunes and spines, secretly hated and despised, especially by aristocrats. He played Beria to Henry VIII's tyrannical Stalin: he did the dirty work and attended the beheadings, while Henry went hunting.
But what Atwood doesn't mention is that Thomas Cromwell (pictured above in the famous Hans Hoblein portrait which is discussed in Mantel's novels) is a lawyer. A consumate lawyer. In many ways, Cromwell is witness, and perhaps midwife, to the rise of English law, although law will not be sufficient to save him (presumably in volume III of the trilogy).
While some ConLawProfs find novels a guilty pleasure (or even not pleasurable!), the legal machinations and historical resonances of Bringing Up The Bodies make this novel a great summer read that could inform teaching and scholarship.
And for those who prefer to listen to books, the audiobook is available, with a sample (and a great description of Cromwell starting after about a minute, and including the description of the painting) here:
[Portrait of Thomas Cromwell by Hans Holbein, circa 1533, via]
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