Top critical review
Not as good as "Wolf Hall," but also not as confusing
Reviewed in the United States on July 9, 2015
I've read both "Wolf Hall" and "Bring Up the Bodies." I'm a fan of historical fiction and these books detail a period of time that I knew very little about: King Henry VIII and the reformation of the Church of England. Although I found the subject matter very interesting and the characters fascinating, it didn't feel like a terrible lot actually took place during the span of the two books. Instead, much of the books revolved around gossip, rumor, and innuendo. Often, it felt like reading a season of The Real Housewives of King Henry VIII's court: this one slept with that one who is married to this one who is the son of that one's employer who once said something negative about this other one.
My sharpest criticism is for Hilary Mantel's writing style of confusing pronouns and frequently changing characters with no notice. Many times, she'd say "He said this" or "He did that" and I'd have no idea which "he" she was referring to, especially when two male characters were conversing. I'd often have to read a whole paragraph twice - first reading just the actions and second after I'd figured out who the subject was. Although, it did appear that more of an effort was made to clarify the characters in "Bring Up the Bodies" than was done in "Wolf Hall." In "Bring Up the Bodies," she would often add "he, Cromwell" to clarify confusing some of the pronouns.
However, despite it being more confusing, I think I enjoyed "Wolf Hall" more and I think it's because more was done to define motives for the characters by narrating either fictionalized events or fictionalized versions of true events. For example, in "Wolf Hall" there are detailed depictions of Thomas Cromwell's like growing up, Christmas-time in Cromwell's house, the death of his wife and daughters as well as the ghosts of these memories, and the humiliation of Cardinal Wolsey. All these scenes helped to frame what drove Cromwell to become the man he did and set the stage for his systematic and complete vengeance. "Bring Up the Bodies" lacked these kinds of depictions and appeared to simply lay the facts bare without really scratching the surface. I think it could have used a little more creativity in framing the events.