Five reasons to reread Wolf Hall & Bring Up The Bodies

The Mirror and the Light, the long-awaited final novel of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall trilogy, will be released on 3 March, 2020.

If you are new to the series you can find a beginner’s guide here.

If you have already read the first two novels of the series, you may be thinking about jumping into the third one straight away. However unless you are one of those people who have read each novel three or four times (and I know you’re out there) or have just read them recently, I would strongly recommend rereading them both before The Mirror and the Light is released.

Here are five reasons why…

It’s been a long time between drinks (understandably).

Wolf Hall was originally published in 2009 and Bring up the Bodies was first released in 2012. If you read them upon or close to their year of release and not since – it’s time to experience them again. I am near the end of rereading them and I am appreciating them even more the second time around (plus it creates tremendous excitement about the third book!)

The sheer amount of characters.

Getting a grip on all the characters and where they fit within Thomas Cromwell’s world is integral to being able to follow the trilogy. Most readers would have a grasp on the key characters from the first two books (Thomas Wolsey, Thomas More, Katherine of Aragon, Henry VIII, Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour and, of course, Thomas Cromwell). Many of these characters aren’t alive in the third book but it’s important to know their history and especially their relationship to Thomas Cromwell and Henry VIII. In Tudor England, haunting dreams, superstition and religious beliefs impacted many from the destitute to the King himself and so it is important to know the past as well as the present.

The remaining characters are perhaps the most important to get your head around – especially when they are referred to by different titles. For example, Charles Brandon (a close friend of Henry VIII) may be referred to as Charles Brandon, Brandon or his official title the Duke of Suffolk. Luckily Mantel has kindly given us a breakdown of characters at the beginning of each book and grouped them according to family, clergy, court, etc. Thomas Cromwell’s household at Austin Friars is especially complex and continually changing. Rereading the first two books will help you get these characters back into some sort of context.

To re-engage with the incredible writing and style of these books.

This has perhaps been the most jaw-dropping aspect of rereading these books for me. Of course Mantel won the Man Booker Prize for both of the first two books, but regardless, they are both masterful pieces of fiction. I actually found myself laughing out loud quite frequently in the first half of Wolf Hall (the first significant exchange between Anne Boleyn and Cromwell for example is loaded with wit, subtext and irony). Yet as the story progresses and the stakes become higher, Mantel creates moments of great sadness, tension and horror as we witness constant shifts in power amongst those in Henry VIII’s court. There is a distinct quality to how Mantel uses point of view and dialogue which takes a little while to get used to but once established is consistent and effective. In longer dialogue scenes especially, speech tags are minimised making the reader feel more present in the novel – as though they are right there in the scene listening to the conversation.

To get back into Cromwell’s head (as much as one can).

This may be the most important reason to reread the first two books. This is not a trilogy about the Tudor reign or even Henry VIII. It is about Thomas Cromwell and specifically his rise to power from one of Cardinal Wolsey’s most senior and trusted advisers to Henry VIII’s Master Secretary as well as numerous other positions including Chancellor of the Exchequer and Lord Privy Seal. Thomas Cromwell is a complicated character with many talents and a mysterious background. He has both physical and mental survival skills, crucial to enduring the Tudor Court where an ally can quickly turn into an enemy. We are also given insights into his private life including his regrets and personal losses. Perhaps what we get most from Cromwell is his incredible mind that never rests and his persuasive speech and negotiation techniques – sometimes used with the best intentions and other times to please the King or punish his enemies.

The timing is perfect.

The Mirror and the Light’s release is just over a month away (3 March), which gives you enough time to reread the first two novels while still ensuring they will be as fresh as possible in your mind before embarking of the third.

Pre-order The Mirror and the Light’s online, and receive a free copy of Mantel’s novel of the French Revolution, A Place of Greater Safety. Pre-orders will be dispatched on 5 March, 2020. This special offer is available only while stocks last.

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The Mirror and the Light

The Mirror and the Light

Hilary Mantel

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