Decent, Respectable & Empty

Checking in with Thomas Cromwell

Bring Up the Bodies
Hilary Mantel
Henry Holt, $28, 407 pp.

Rarely has a sequel excited such eager anticipation as Hilary Mantel’s follow-up to her bestselling and Booker Prize–winning Wolf Hall, her novel of the court of Henry VIII and England’s break with Rome. Bring Up the Bodies (which also recently won the Booker Prize) continues to chart the rise of Thomas Cromwell, one of the chief architects of the English Reformation and keeper of his monarch’s—and his own—best interests, a sharp-eyed fixer in the “vast dripping web of court patronage.” Wolf Hall began with a brawl in the dust outside Cromwell’s blacksmith father’s workshop and ended with Cromwell facilitating the marriage of Henry VIII to Anne Boleyn and the ensuing break with Rome, having slickly seen off his enemies, including Sir Thomas More. Bring Up the Bodies takes up the threads of the story, this central narrative of English history, three years later: Cromwell is in his prime, having become Master of the Rolls, Master Secretary to the King and Chancellor of Cambridge. As he says himself: “Show me a heap and I’m on top of it.”

This novel, like its predecessor, is a masterpiece of atmosphere conveyed by the accretion of detail, layer upon layer, like geological strata. The opening scenes show Cromwell, out hunting with the king, guiding his hawk back to his wrist with pin-sharp accuracy: watchful, enigmatic, beady-eyed, he is a man of velvet and steel. Domestic details are so...

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About the Author

Lucy Lethbridge is a freelance writer and former literary editor of the Tablet.