The winner of this year's Man Booker Prize was announced recently with the top accolade awarded for the second time to novelist Hilary Mantel, this year for her skilfully crafted historical drama, "Bring Up the Bodies". She becomes the first woman and only the third author, after Peter Carey and J.M. Coetzee, to win the prize twice, and also the first novelist to win the coveted honour for a sequel.
The plot picks up where her previous bestseller and prize-winning novel "Wolf Hall" (2009) left off, but this time focusing on the intrigue and power plays that characterised a one year period in Henry VIII's cut-throat reign when on the advice of Thomas Cromwell and his then wife (and some say only true love) Anne Boleyn, the King had broken away from the Catholic Church in Rome.
This turbulent period in British history was dominated by plotting families desperate to build dynasties around the King's new church at any cost, and Mantel takes the reader inside Henry's twisted court, unravelling the schemes of his closest advisors and painting a vivid picture of treachery, betrayal and the brutal consequences of both.
As the story develops, it is clear that Henry has lost faith in his beloved Anne Boleyn, mainly because she has not given birth to a son and heir, and also due to her obvious contempt for other members of the English aristocracy. Encouraged mainly by suspicions planted in his head by Thomas Cromwell, Henry accuses his wife of adultery and she faces a trial and certain death unless she and her family can outwit the King's chief minister and persuade the monarch to change his mind.
As the scandal plays out, demure Jane Seymour waits patiently in the background, virtually assured of her place as new queen once Anne is despatched. Boleyn and her powerful family, however, will never concede defeat without a stubborn battle of influence and deception.
"Bring Up the Bodies" is a masterful historical novel and through its pages Hilary Mantel has firmly established herself as the greatest modern writer of the genre. The plot moves with swift, dramatic flair, almost like a play, and throughout the book she infuses a dark wit and polished gift for story-telling to the point where as a reader, you often feel personally involved — developing allegiances in real time and weighing up the characters' conflicting moralities as the plot twists and turns like a roller coaster ride through the ancient past.
Anyone who shies away from historical fiction should put their reservations on hold for this one. Mantel effortlessly transports you back in time to the court of Henry VIII and never once drifts into textbook style history. You are kept on the edge of your throne with the cold metal edge of a sharpened axe occasionally tickling the back of your neck.
There is one more novel to come in the series, and several critics have already suggested that, like Jane Seymour, Hilary Mantel is a strong contender for crown number three.
by LVH Marketing