It’s not often that I buy a book and start reading it straight away, mainly because I’ll be already reading one or more and also because I have a huge stack of unread books. But Bring Up the Bodies arrived in the post at just the right time, as I’d just finished reading one book and was ready for the next.
Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel is the sequel to Wolf Hall, which I read and loved in 2010. I’ve been looking forward to reading it ever since I finished reading Wolf Hall. So, even with a large backlog of books to be read, I just had to start Bring Up the Bodies straight away. It’s like catching up with friends you haven’t seen for a while – it begins in September 1535, just a few days after Wolf Hall finished. Thomas More was executed and now Henry VIII and his retinue are staying at Wolf Hall, the home of the Seymour family. And so, the story continues. This book covers the fall of Anne Boleyn, but like Wolf Hall, it’s about the career of Thomas Cromwell, Secretary to the king, Master of the Rolls, Chancellor of Cambridge University, and deputy to the king as head of the church in England.
I’m now on page 101, a quarter of the book read, and am trying to read it as slowly as possible, soaking up the atmosphere and Hilary Mantel’s richly descriptive words. Interestingly, I’ve noticed that every now and then, she qualifies who ‘he‘ is: ‘he, Cromwell‘, removing the ambiguity found in Wolf Hall. I hadn’t realised until I read the Author’s Note that this is not the end of Thomas Cromwell or the end of Hilary Mantel’s efforts to write about him:
This book is of course not about Anne Boleyn or about Henry VIII, but about the career of Thomas Cromwell, who is still in need of attention from biographers. Meanwhile, Mr Secretary remains sleek, plump and densely inaccessible, like a choice plum in a Christmas pie; but I hope to continue my efforts to dig him out. (page 410)
But I’ve also realised that I need to read Fatherland by Robert Harris, because this is the book we’ll be discussing at my face-to-face book group at the end of May and I hadn’t started it yet. So this morning I began to read it.
Whilst Bring Up the Bodies is most definitely historical fiction, Fatherland is more difficult to categorise. It’s set in Germany in 1964, but not the historical Germany of that date, because Hitler is approaching his 75th birthday, and Germany had won the Second World War – it’s historical fiction that never was – an alternative history. And yet many of the characters actually existed, their biographies are correct up to 1942 and Harris quotes from authentic documents in the book. The Berlin of the book is the Berlin that Albert Speer planned to build. What is definite is that this is a murder mystery, beginning with the discovery of the naked body of an old man, lying half in a lake on the outskirts of Berlin. The homicide investigator is Xavier March of the Kriminalpolizei and the victim is a member of the Nazi Party. It promises to be a thrilling page-turner.
I don’t think I’ll have any trouble reading the two books in tandem, as there’s no chance that I’ll mix up the characters or plots.