These days multi tasking seems to be a thing of the past, mind is feeling the weight of things and rising sense of urgency makes it hard to prioritize rationally. I must acknowledge that with the onset of years, gone are the days when I could just pick up anything to read and plonk myself down without my reading glasses. If I add up the time taken in the past one year when I had to walk the steps to pick up my spectacles from wherever I have left them, I could have read a couple more books.
Bring up the Bodies” is about the fall of Anne Boleyn , in telling a gripping story of terror during the Tudor age, Hilary Mantel focuses on portraying Thomas Cromwell as a ruthless, brutal and crafty minister. Cromwell was born a violent blacksmith’s son from Putney and he ran away from his hometown only to return 27 years later as a lawyer. He is certainly not a sentimentalist and not a man with whom one can have inconsequential conversations. King Henry VIII is getting disenchanted with Anne Boleyn as she has failed to give him a son and her sharp intelligence and audacious will alienate his old friends and the noble families of England. The King now has eyes for the demure Jane Seymour thus his loyal master secretary, Cromwell plots to bring Anne Boleyn down after having failed in his attempts to negotiate a voluntary dissolution of the marriage between Henry and Anne. Although Cromwell is aware that not all the evidence against the Queen and those who are being tried are true, he has to protect his own position and do what is necessary to serve Henry the king. The novel also gives a ghastly account of how Cromwell seizes the opportunity to hound and kill all those privileged courtiers and aristocrats to avenge the humiliating treatment of his beloved master, the late Cardinal Wolsey.
This is how Cromwell is described by Mantel in her novel.
‘ Thomas Cromwell is now about fifty years old. He has a labourer’s body, stocky, useful, running to fat. He has black hair, graying now, and because of his pale impermeable skin, which seem designed to resist rain as well as sun people sneer that his father was an Irishman, though really he was a brewer and a blacksmith at Putney, a shearsman too, a man with a finger in every pie, a scrapper and brawler, a drunk and a bully, a man often hauled before the justices for punching someone, for cheating someone. How the son of such a man has achieved his present eminence is a question all Europe asks. Some says he came up with the Boleyns, the queen’s family. Some say it was wholly through the late Cardinal Wolsley, his patron; Cromwell was in his confidence and made money for him and knew his secrets. Others say he haunts the company of sorcerers. He was out of the realm from boyhood, a hired soldier, a wood trader , a banker. No one knows where he has been and who he has met, and he is in no hurry to tell them. He never spares himself in the king’s service, he knows his worth and merits and makes sure of his reward: offices, perquisites and title deeds, manor houses and farms. He has a way of getting his way, he has a method;he will charm a man or bribe him, coax him or threaten him, he will explain to a man where his true interests lie, and he will introduce that same man to aspects of himself he didn’t know existed. Every day Master Secretary deals with grandees who, if they could, would destroy him with one vindictive swipe, as if he were a fly. Knowing this , he is distinguished by his courtesy, his calmness and his indefatigable attention to England’s business. He is not in the habit of explaining himself. He is not in the habit of discussing his successes. But whenever good fortune has called on him, he has been there, planted on the threshold, ready to fling open the door to her timid scratch on the wood.
At home in his city house at Austin Friars, his portrait broods on the wall; he is wrapped in wool and fur, his hand clenched around a document as if he were throttling it. Hans had pushed a table back to trap him and said, Thomas ,you mustn’t laugh; and they had proceeded on that basis, Hans humming as he worked and he staring ferociously into the middle distance. When he saw the portrait finished he had said, ‘Christ I look like a murderer; and his son, Gregory said, didn’t you know? ‘
Mantel wrote, ‘He has helped them to their new world, the world without Anne Boleyn, and now they will think they can do without Cromwell too. They have eaten his banquet and now they will want to sweep him out with the rushes and the bones. But this was his table: he runs on the top of it, among the broken meats. Let them try to pull him down. They will find him armoured, they will find him entrenched, they will find him stuck like a limper to the future. He has laws to write, measures to take, the good of the commonwealth to serve, and his king; he has titles and honours still to attain, houses to build, books to read, and who knows, perhaps children to father, and Gregory to dispose in marriage. It would be some compensation for the children lost, to have a grandchild. He imagines standing in a daze of light, holding up a small child so the dead can see it .’
Once again history reminds us not to trust the politicians and those at the helm. The novel has taken me much time to finish reading as Mantel’s prose needs concentration and a moment’s distraction, I have to start the page and re-read it again.