Category Archives: Arts

Book review: Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel

Bring Up the Bodies is the second historical novel in Hilary Mantel‘s Booker Prize-winning trilogy about Thomas Cromwell.

I was delighted to find that the author manages to carve a narrative no less gripping and realistic as that which she achieved in the first book, Wolf Hall, which I reviewed a few months ago. That word “realistic” can be taken to mean many things; but for me, in this context, it signifies (again) a filling-in of the huge gaps in our knowledge about the fine detail of life in and around the court of Henry VIII. Mantel once more employs a wealth of intriguing and convincing suppositions, psychological insight and plausible dialogue. No-one will ever know to what extent her suppositions are correct – but they are always persuasive.

I turned the final page feeling that this was more or less how actual events must have played out in the physical settings, the inter-personal relationships and the psyches of the principal characters who were held in near orbit around this tyrant king.

The story moves on, of course, and in some ways the pace increases. Anyone with a cursory knowledge of Henry’s marital timeline is no doubt aware of the fate of his six wives. Primarily, this book tracks the gradual and terrifying slide out of Henry’s affections by Anne Boleyn (drawing, above right, by Hans Holbein The Younger), towards her doom. Our witness to all the goings-on is again Thomas Cromwell, whose persona is once more used as an on-the-spot notary of key moves by the pieces on this unfolding, life-and-death game of chess. Some are pawns, some, like Cromwell, are more powerful pieces; but there is only one king …

I was just slightly more struck this time around by the richness of Hilary Mantel’s prose. It feels like not a single paragraph, even when the event described is mundane, can go by without the addition of some small but eye-catching gem of literary embellishment. At one point, for instance, the king rises from his place and “His servants eddied about him”. What a lovely choice of verb!

There are innumerable other examples: as when Cromwell pays a visit to Henry Norris at the Tower of London (see below): “Gentle Norris: chief bottom-wiper to the king, spinner of silk threads, spider of spiders, black centre of the vast dripping web of court patronage”.

Another distinguishing characteristic is an increasing resort to a more earthy prose style, with the use on a number of occasions of obscenities and unrestrained descriptions of bodily functions and sexual acts (of numerous kinds). It’s not over-done but is a very telling ingredient in the blunt realism and quasi-documentary feel of the novel.

I say again: this is an imagined account of life and death in the court of Henry VIII which will not be surpassed.



Image credits: Anne Boleyn by Hans Holbein The Younger: public domain

White Tower at the Tower of London: Padraig.

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Get masked up – they’re the next big fashion accessory

Will there be any longer-term effects of the sudden vogue for face masks? They seem to be untying their associations with deadly disease and becoming the next big thing, the little black dress of the 2020s – the latest mainstream fashion statement. They’re being seen on catwalks everywhere, like here at the Madrid Fashion Week

… and here in South Korea …

Designer Marine Serre may have started the current craze inadvertently. Her Fall Winter 2019 show included a range of au courant masks, way before the current pandemic overtook us.

And of course these new, colourful, designer face coverings – often sporting messages or logos – are to be seen in every city centre, every suburb and even every rural setting (lockdowns and curfews permitting). It seems to me that a new, and potentially major, sector of the fashion industry may well be in the making. With so many companies having turned over their productive capacity to the making of, first, PPE, and then later the wider consumer market for masks, it’s surely unlikely that the accoutriment will simply vanish. And if it stays, isn’t it likely to lead on to other things?

They become an item of personal branding. Masks have been used throughout history as a means of changing identity, creating mystery and hiding both one’s appearance and one’s true feelings. They’re still used in various festivals and select social events, such as the Venice Carnival.

So where could all this be leading? Might we be about to witness the birth of more modest – and yet more showy – cultural standards, a less in-yer-face – and yet more ostentatious – ethos, a ramping-up of both courtesy … and flamboyance? Will we enter a Post-Pandemic Age in which a fashionable mask becomes as commonplace an accessory as a scarf, a bangle, a hat or a set of false eyelashes?

Would it not be wonderful to see masked balls in discos, clubs and pubs up and down the land, with closing time a signal for the streets to be filled with gallant young men escorting demure, mask-wearing young ladies to their motorised electric carriages, rather than, at throwing-out time, shots-saturated tarts and booze-fuelled yobs throwing punches at each other, throwing insults at the police and throwing-up on the pavement?

Oh I do hope so.



Image credit: Venice Carnival – Masked Lovers: Frank Kovalchek from Anchorage, Alaska, USA, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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