The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel

I finished The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel this afternoon, so that took me eight days to read the 882 pages, I could have been faster, but I savoured every word. This last book in her Thomas Cromwell trilogy was well worth waiting for, but I can hardly believe that it has been eight years since Bring Up the Bodies was published. I don’t go in for much in the way of re-reading but I intend to read the whole trilogy again at some point in the future.

If you’re at all interested in the history of the Tudors then you obviously know how this story ends, but despite that 874 pages before Cromwell’s execution are still a riveting read and from about half-way through I slowed down my reading, not wanting the book to finish and at the end I felt quite bereft, knowing that I was going to miss being in Cromwell’s company.

Well, none of us is perfect and he had a lot of flaws, but given the circumstances he could have been an awful lot worse than he was and in the end it was his lack of brutality and cruelty to others at Henry’s court that brought his downfall.

Cromwell had always been able to see that given Henry’s nature the possibility of swiftly falling out of the king’s favour was almost inevitable, he could have sailed to Italy or some other European country with some of his wealth, but he left it too late as he loved being at the centre of power.

Throughout the book Cromwell thinks back to scenes in his life from his childhood on, replaying the abuses that he had to put up with from his blacksmith father Walter, and his life in Italy as a young man, the loss of his wife and daughters and before that the loss of his ‘Anselma’, for me this had the effect of a man drowning and seeing his past life playing out in front of him. He could clearly see where he had gone wrong, what he should have done differently in his incredible career but at the time he didn’t think he could do anything different. In reality though he knew that if Henry wanted rid of someone it was going to happen, there was no getting away from it.

I was really glad that Hilary Mantel wrote three and a half pages of author’s notes explaining what had happened to many of the other characters in the book, as it saved me from having to look them all up. She explained that she had been given encouragement from many historians, academics, curators and actors over the years which had included many distinguished names but had decided not to compile a list of acknowledgments. She thought that it would be like a vulgar exercise in name-dropping. I think that’s a bit of a shame as I imagine that if I had been one of those people I would have been expecting such an acknowledgement, and as a reader I would have been interested to know who had contributed help over the years.

Anyway, I suspect that this one will also win the Booker, it’s a great read.

10 thoughts on “The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel

  1. Katrina,
    So glad to read your thoughts about this very long-awaited novel. My book arrived Monday afternoon, a day before the official U.S. pub date, which is something that Amazon likes to snub its nose at by delivering a bit early. I expect to read it in the very near future. I, too, appreciate having as much as possible in the way of acknowledgements, so I agree with your comments.

    • Judith,
      I hope you enjoy it, it isn’t an easy read and all the different names and titles as well as nicknames that the same character can have must seem quite confusing to begin with if a reader isn’t used to that. I’m sure you are though. It’s the same when reading Russian classic literature I suppose, but the family trees will help anyone who might get confused.

  2. Because of the length of this one I decided to hold off till I saw how the reviews were shaping up. Yours is the first I’ve seen and I’m delighted you enjoyed it so much – I shall now confidently add it to my wishlist!

    • FictionFan,
      I’m lucky that I don’t work and am very happy to ignore the non-essential housework and just get on with reading. I hope you enjoy it too.

  3. Based on my enjoyment of Bring Up the Bodies, which I finished recently, and your comments on The Mirror and the Light, I am sure I will be reading it. Thomas Cromwell’s story as told by Mantel is just too good to pass up. But I am not in a hurry to get to it, partially because of the length.

    • tracybham,
      The weight and thickness of it is daunting, but I was dying to get my hands on it, even though I knew what happened. It’s very easy to feel that you are there with Mantel’s writing. I’m missing Tudor England!

  4. You’re the first blogger I’ve seen who has reviewed this book, so I’m pleased you loved it so much! I’ll be reading it myself soon but have some other books I want to finish first. The size does look daunting but I’m sure once I start reading I won’t want it to end either.

    • Helen,
      I cleared the decks so that I could concentrate on this one as I’ve been waiting on it coming out for so long. It helps that the print is a decent size but I used a cushion under the book to take some of the weight.

  5. Great review! I’ve started reading it – very slowly, the hardback is so heavy. It is beautifully written, as are the earlier books and I’m enjoying it, getting used to the characters again. It will be a while before I finish it.

    • Margaret,
      I found it very awkward to hold, I ended up with a sore left hand at one point. As you say, it is beautifully written, and it was worth the wait.

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