Best of 2012: Bring Up The Bodies by Hilary Mantel – Guest Post by Peggy Riley

This post has kindly been written by author and playwright Peggy Riley. Peggy’s debut novel Amity and Sorrow will be published in March 2013 by Tinder Press, a new imprint of Headline. Here Peggy talks about her pick for 2012, Booker Prize winning Bring Up The Bodies by Hilary Mantel.

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My book of the year was Bring Up the Bodies. Wasn’t it yours? Hilary Mantel’s second of three books about Thomas Cromwell seemed to top every book list going, though she was pipped to the ‘Waterstones Book of the Year’ post by an octopus.

2012 cover. Image: 4thestate.co.uk
2012 cover. Image: 4thestate.co.uk

My reading this year has mostly consisted of last year’s and next year’s books, but it is hard to find a book published this year that is more audacious. You don’t just read a book and a story this large, this grand, this all-consuming; you live with it and through it. The experience of reading it is near hallucinatory, with its great waves of words washing over and through you. It is a testament to Mantel’s skill that the middle book of a trilogy be so compelling, able to stand alone from Wolf Hall yet leading the reader to ache for the denouement that will come in the third, The Mirror and the Light, even though the ending is already fixed in time.

I don’t know what I’ve learned of Henry and his wives and wars; I’m a Tudor-nerd and my sense of them has been created via a variety of media over the years.  I’m not sure that Mantel has altered, adjusted or even added to my sense of them. What she has done is to bring a painting to life, this relatively unknown man captured by Holbein. Before reading, I had a vague sense of him, that he was somehow “bad”.  Mantel has shown me a multi-faceted, fully-realised character who has become, for me, a real man, a living piece of history set within a fabulous story. My sense of Cromwell will forever be Mantel’s now. I can’t wait to see what comes next.

Hilary Mantel at the 2012 Man Booker Prize. Image: guardian.co.uk
Hilary Mantel at the 2012 Man Booker Prize. Image: guardian.co.uk

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Bring Up The Bodies was published by Fourth Estate in May 2012 and went on to win this year’s Man Booker Prize.

 

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