The Mirror and the Light
by Hillary Mantel
2020 / 757 pages (Kindle)
read by Ben Miles 38h 12m
rating – 10/historical fiction
(read and listened)
This is the brilliant finish to Mantel’s story of Thomas Cromwell and his days in power as the Lord Great Chamberlain to King Henry the VIII, helping him get out of marriages he didn’t want and into marriages he thought the did as well as so much else. It”s ‘the third volume of the Wolf Hall trilogy which really should be read in order. In Book I, “Wolf Hall,” Thomas is found helping gather evidence against the Queen, Ann Bolyn, so that King Henry VIII can have her executed for treason. That task completed, volume II, “Bring Up the Bodies.” concerns Cromwell arranging a marriage between Henry and Jane Seymore. Jane manages to give Henry a son, Edward, but then she dies. In “The Mirror and the Light” Henry’s arranged marriage to Anne of Cleves is explored along with the final days of Cromwell..
Cromwell, as presented in Mantel’s meticulously researched story is a complex creature – possibly more complex than the reality of that very complex and ambitious man. He was ambitious for himself but also moist likely for the Protestant Reformation in general as we’ll as for Henry himself. In the years he lived and thrived in London Cromwell made many friends but maybe more enemies, he loved deeply but he lost both money and dear ones. He held various offices at the whim of King Henry III, proving himself to be indispensable until he wasn’t. He got to the very top and you know what they say about that –
This is one of those books where even if you definitely know the ending – the author hooks you in with prose and tension because you really care about this tragic hero, This is probably the best of the three books in terms of literary styling. I was wowed in the first book by the point of view which is like an intimate third person – or a detached first person – ??? Whatever it is, it definitely works. The second book, Bring up the Bodies, is definitely keeps up with the first, but the point of view is not so surprising. It’s in the third book though there Mantel brings it all home – the character and his point of view as well as the tension of the story-line – which gets pretty intense and we watch as Cromwell goes through some heavy changes.
Delighted that you loved it too… I did wonder how it would ‘translate’ across the Atlantic…
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It took me awhile to finish it but it was definitely worth it. I hope this book grabs the Booker Prize this year – that’ll be all three.
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