Bring Up the Bodies – the London Play

The new plays in London adapting Hilary Mantel’s award winning best sellers have been compared to a British version of House of Cards – full of political intrigue and back-door negotiations. If you have read and enjoyed the books, seeing them in play form can feel like stepping through the looking glass into Henry VIII’s world. “Wolf Hall” and “Bring Up the Bodies” play on alternate nights with a cast of characters (seven of them called Thomas) from the Royal Shakespeare Company.

I recently sat in a packed house to see “Bring Up the Bodies.” Over a thousand pages of print unfolded through two acts. The action is easy to follow and as compelling as Mantel’s books with teasingly ambiguous subplots. You will have to decide if Anne Boleyn was promiscuous and incestuous, or if the accusations were merely a convenient way for Henry to move on to Jane Seymour. The asides are as juicy and memorable as Noel Coward’s zingers.

I may have to reread Mantel’s books now; on second thought, it would be easier to wait for the BBC televised series in 2015.

Read my reviews of the books:

Wolf Hall

Bring Up the Bodies

And check out the RSC cast:

Bring Up the Bodies RSC

Behind the Scenes at the Museum

BehindTheScenesAtTheMuseumKate Atkinson caused a stir with her first book – Behind the Scenes at the Museum – by winning the Whitbread Prize in 1995.  Since then she has continued to win awards for her stories, but noted in an interview:

{her ideal situation would be} “to have enough money … [to] write and not be published”. {She doesn’t like reviews or critics.} “It’s a very uncomfortable thing for a writer, we’re very tender.”

When critics assaulted her for winning for her first book – over seasoned authors – Hilary Mantel (Bring Up the Bodies) defended the first-time author with a scathing op-ed piece in the London Review of Books titled – Shop!   After reading Atkinson’s latest success – Life After Life – I was curious to read her first book.

With the same theme of examining a life from birth through the voice of the narrator, Behind the Scenes at the Museum reflects the historical perspective and self-examination that later became the unique twist of rebirth in Life After Life.  In this first novel, however, the life of Ruby Lennox continues as everyone around her seems to die, and the story is dense with details that sometimes mask the clues that later reveal surprises in Ruby’s life.

Ruby’s story begins with conception and throughout the book she assumes a dual role.  Spanning the late nineteenth and twentieth century, Ruby tells her own story and that of the women in her life – her mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother.  She also acts as the omniscient narrator with access to the future fates of her sisters and lovers, revealed in chapters titled “footnotes.”  Atkinson withholds two major surprises in the telling – one about Ruby herself and the other about the father of a major character – no spoilers here.

As the scenes shift from each woman’s fate, their commonalities create a thread through relationships and hardships – all affecting Ruby and her life.  Atkinson neatly notes:

“The past is what you take with you.”

If I had not read Life After Life first, I’m not sure if I would have enjoyed this one as much.    Atkinson’s style takes some getting used to, and Behind the Scenes at the Museum has obscure moments that are sometimes confusing.  But I could hear Ursula (the narrator from Life After Life) singing in the wings – waiting to be born.

Related Reviews:

A Year of Books: 2012

reading in bedMost of the books I read tend to disappear from my memory within days of finishing – one of the reasons I started writing reviews was to keep a reference log as a reminder.  Some books this year stayed with me, and I can recall a magic 7 that would be worth recommending again:

Bring Up the Bodies: Hilary Mantel’s second historical fiction featuring Thomas Cromwell has me yearning for the last and third book yet to be published.

A Discovery of Witches and the sequel were fast adventures with a brilliant academic who also happens to be a witch who can time travel. Author Deborah Harkness promises a third in the series next year.

Son – Lois Lowry’s long awaited sequel to her award winning The Giver.

The Prisoner of Heaven –  Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s Gothic tales are always an adventure.

The Incredible Painting of Felix Clousseau – Jon Agee’s picture book with pictures that come to life is one to keep on the shelf.

Sacré Bleu by Christopher Moore must be read on real pages to appreciate the blue.

Train Dreams – Denis Johnson’s fictional history of the American West was short but intense.

What favorites from 2012 do you recommend?

Time for Lists

When the New York Times revealed its top ten books of 2012, my favorite was at the top, but none of the other nine were on my radar this year – only a month to catch up.  Have you read any?

New York Times Best Books of 2012

  • Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel – Man Booker Prize184872618
  • Building Stories by Chris Ware
  • A Hologram for the King by Dave Eggers
  • NW by Sadie Smith
  • The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers
  • Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo
  • Far from the Tree by Edward Solomon
  • The Passage of Power by Robert Caro
  • The Patriarch by David Nasaw
  • Why Does the World Exist by Jim Holt

The Huffington Post has a few alternatives for their top ten – among them:

  • Swimming Home by Deborah Levy
  • The Round House by Louis Erdrich – National Book Award Winner
  • Dear Life by Alice Munro
  • Billy Lynn’s Long Half Time Walk by Ben Fountain
  • Beautiful Thing by Sonia Faleiro

Related articles

The Queen’s Lover

Not everyone can meet the high expectations Hilary Mantel raised for historical novels. In Francine du Plessix Gray’s fictionalized history of Marie Antoinette’s Swedish lover, Count Axel von Fersen – The Queen’s Lover – the history outshines the fiction.

Although historians cannot agree on the extent of intimacy in the relationship between the Swedish aristocrat and the famous French Queen, the rumors could provide the basis for the possibilities that Gray creates. The Count is historically famous for fighting in the American Revolution and for his escape plan for the imprisoned French royals, which fails. Gray uses letters written by the Count and by Marie Antoinette that have been recently recovered, and the letters are sometimes more compelling than the fictional prose. Despite the drama of the beheading, Marie Antoinette’s final letter is the focal point.

As an education into the details of the French Revolution and the backstory of royal intrigues, the book offers a tedious accounting, and the connection between the imagined and the real never quite connected for me. I think I’ve been spoiled by Hilary Mantel.

Review of Mantel’s: Bring Up the Bodies