‘The Mirror and the Light’ by Hilary Mantel


‘The Mirror and the Light’ has to be one of the most anticipated books of 2020. It’s been 8 years since the previous book in the trilogy, ‘Bring Up the Bodies’, was published.

The trilogy as a whole focuses on the life of Henry VIII’s chief minister after the fall of Cardinal Wolsey – Thomas Cromwell. For those who don’t know the background, Cromwell was at the heart of Henry VIII’s divorce from Katherine of Aragon and marriage to Anne Boleyn, Anne Boleyn’s fall and execution, and Henry VIII’s 6-month marriage to Anne of Cleves. There is debate in the historical community over this involvement in these events, but Mantel puts him at the forefront.

It’s taken me around 2 months to read this – not because of any real problem with the book, but because of this COVID-19 outbreak. I’ve seen quite a few people saying that they’ve been struggling to read during lockdown, and I’ve fallen into that hole. Nevertheless, I have finished it finally and I’m really glad I finally got to see Cromwell’s end written in Mantel’s hand.

“Sometimes it is years before we can see who are the heroes in an affair and who are the victims.”

‘The Mirror and the Light’ by Hilary Mantel

I loved the way that the last few chapters were written in particular. For anyone who knows how Cromwell’s life ends (I feel like most people reading this blog probably will, but I still won’t drop any spoilers!), it felt like a different way of ending than those we’ve seen before, either in books or on TV or film. It was a sympathetic way of seeing it, as Mantel’s portrayal of Cromwell has been throughout the series. Whether her view is right or wrong her grasp of the historical context is demonstrated by the tiny details that are included, looking not just at the events established but what is hinted at in letters left behind.

One thing I will say, though, is that this is actually my least favourite of the trilogy; ‘Bring Up the Bodies’ was my favourite. In some ways this felt too long, like it dragged on – I didn’t feel like it had the same pace as the others. The section between Jane’s death in 1537 and the marriage to Anne in 1540 felt a little forced in places, as Mantel tried to fit in everything that happened and could have a bearing on Cromwell’s fall.

Nevertheless, a worthy ending to a series about a man that has often been maligned by history, rightly or wrongly; I’ll leave it to you to make up your own minds.

If you want to read more about the fall of Thomas Cromwell, see my earlier blog post https://tudorblogger.wordpress.com/2012/11/27/the-fall-of-thomas-cromwell-1540/

This review has also been published on my sister blog bookbloggerish.wordpress.com.

Author: Helene Harrison

I have an MA in History, with a thesis entitled 'The Many Faces of Anne Boleyn: Perceptions in History, Literature and Film'. I have an interest in the Tudors and the Wars of the Roses along with my love of reading and literature.

3 thoughts on “‘The Mirror and the Light’ by Hilary Mantel”

  1. I’ve loved this book, but like you, it is taking me a long time to read it – my reading pace has really slowed down. However, I don’t want to the book to end so I’m making it last as long as possible!

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