You don’t ring, you don’t write, you don’t post comments in our Spoiler and No-Spoiler Zones – we’re starting to sense what it must have been like to be Anne Boleyn discarded by Henry VIII. Hopefully you don’t have a scaffold and French executioner in mind for us.
Perhaps consensus is the enemy of good book club conversation – but we’d still appreciate some conversation. That’s what we’re here for, after all. If we just wanted to bask in the sound of our own voices … well, isn’t that what Twitter is for?
I am, at any rate, putting the lack of comment over Hilary Mantel’s Bring Up the Bodies down to consensus. I’ve barely met anyone with something to say against it, apart from that irritating business with the “he, Cromwell” (explained by the author in this interview with BBC Radio 4′s Front Row).
“Only on page 18 and the ‘he, Cromwell’ technique is distracting me from the story #bringupthebodies #irritating,” tweeted Sue Dudman.
Also on Twitter, Jolisa Gracewood (told you it was a critics’ echo chamber) brought our attention to the Guardian Digested Read comment: “This present-tense narrative is making me breathless.”
“Breathless is exactly the right word,” responded David Larsen (another – ahem – critic). “The present-continuous flow is hard to shake yourself out of.”
But I don’t think this was meant as a criticism so much as a statement of fact.
Our website comments, such as they were, began on June 9 with this from Alice13: ”It’s such a relief to be reading Bring Up the Bodies, after trying – and failing – to enjoy The Forrests. I did so want it to be good, because Emily is such a legend (and so great to listen to in Wellington). But I felt I fell into the category of ‘if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say it at all’. But Hilary Mantel is on another level altogether. I felt bereft when Wolf Hall finished and, only 30-odd pages in, I am transported back into Tudor England. She has such a light touch with her writing, uses few adjectives but I get the sense of the man very clearly. Pure joy.”
Enough of Emily Perkins already. (Although we do urge you to read this Craig Cliff blog on last month’s “real-life” book group discussion of The Forrests.)
Later, book presumably finished, Alice13 popped back to say: ”Brilliant. Best book I’ve read this year, by miles.”
We also got an early comment from Teresa Gordon: ”I am so close to starting Bring up the Bodies but I made the decision to read Wolf Hall first as it was sitting on my virtual To Be Read list. I’m 78% of the way through and really enjoying it although I wish I hadn’t watched The Other Boleyn Girl on DVD by pure chance a week before starting Wolf Hall. I promise to finish this and Bring up the Bodies… and make comment.. before the end of June (whew! – no light hearted reads for me this month then).”
And, true to her word, Teresa was back this afternoon: ”Whew! Made it to the finish line just in time I think. I set myself the task of reading Wolf Hall first, even though Guy [that would be me] said it wasn’t necessary. He was probably right but I have an overwhelming need to read book series in their chronological order. I didn’t realise quite how long it would take me to read Wolf Hall (two weeks) and in comparison, Bring Up the Bodies was a quick read (in about four days). I really enjoyed both books. I enjoyed Wolf Hall because it gave such a great insight into Thomas Cromwell’s life even though it seemed to drag and get bogged down at times (the Thomas More affair seemed to stretch for aeons). I enjoyed Bring Up the Bodies because it was such a great story (which is why so many people have written novels about it I guess). I loved all the delicious hypocrisies involved in Anne Boleyn’s trial and annulment of her marriage that I may not have appreciated so much if I hadn’t read Wolf Hall first. I confess I imagined more than once this story being made into a Blackadder series with Rowan Atkinson playing the role of Cromwell and maybe Stephen Fry as Heny VIII. On a more serious note (I don’t have too many of these in my life!) the book made me reflect upon which issues in life I would ‘put my head on the line’ for. The concept of dying for one’s beliefs as happened so often in both books is such a foreign concept to me living my soft, cosy western post-modern existence. Thanks for the opportunity to read this book. I will definitely recommend it to my historical fiction loving friends.”
By the way, Teresa’s first comment prompted this from Craig Ranapia (yet another critic – but at least not on Twitter this time): “My comiserations for having to endure The Other Boleyn Girl in any medium - but that basically gave the finger to history with such yobbish vigour (as opposed to Mantel’s obsessive research) it doesn’t matter much.”
Talking of responses, Caroline Thomas had this to say: ”sorry Alice13 but I disagree about the light touch. Sentences in excess of 60 words and 11 commas are not light.”
Caroline later added on Facebook: “I gave up. Although I agree the writing is great [but not that great, judging by her previous comment], the subject matter left me cold. I guess I have had enough of the Tudors.”
Also on Facebook, Caroline Doran said: “I’m reading Bring up the Bodies as my bus book, but I think I need to devote some couch time to it instead – requires a fair amount of contemplation/concentration to appreciate the language.”
Paula Suckling said: “Thumbs up from me! Loving it. I had to put it down a bit when I was laying low with a head cold as it required more concentration than I could muster. Lots of characters of course, and when I find them hard to keep track of I do a name search (on my Kindle) and just need to reading a few of the results to get a reminder. Love my e-reader!”
Shhh about that e-reader, Paula – this Book Club is co-hosted by Booksellers New Zealand, you know.
Let’s leave the final word (the final 300 words) about Bring Up the Bodies to Cathy Clarke: ”I’m not usually book-series reader, I like something new each time, but I do have favourite authors and after reading Wolf Hall last month I was keen to read more on Thomas Cromwell. I have done a history paper on ‘The Tudors and the English Reformation’ so I was familiar with the cast of characters and their outcomes. Instead of Cromwell as the one-dimensional, sly, evil henchman of Henry VIII and the machinations and intrigues of court, Mantel makes him human – with family and friends that he loves and a sense of humour. You come to admire the man, his extraordinary rise to power, his administrative skills, his astuteness and loyalty – I would describe both books as the Restoration of Thomas Cromwell. It is the wonderful writing that brings him alive – I didn’t mind the ‘he, Cromwell’, an archaic flavour that felt like you were seeing things from behind his eyes with his sense of detachment and wariness. Beautiful musical sentences abound: ‘His petitioners send him malmsey and muscatel, geldings, game and gold, gifts and grants and warrants, lucky charms and spells.’ Or this, ‘Do not forget us. As the year turns, we are here: a whisper, a touch, a feather’s breath from you.’ I loved the tender humour when Cromwell is ‘ironical’ about Chapuys’ Christmas hat and the crenellated jellies his cook prepares, but later George Boleyn ‘will feel his head on his shoulders wobbling as soft as jelly.’ After the recapping of the beginning, the tension builds with the death of Katherine, and the absolute panic when Henry falls from his horse, and the scheming with the Seymours. There are hints of Cromwell’s vulnerability towards the end, with an unguarded moment seen reflected in the window, so I am looking forward to the next book The Mirror and the Light.”
As are very many of us, Cathy.