The Mirror And The Light Hardcover – 5 Mar 2020
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‘Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall novels make 99 per cent of contemporary literary fiction feel utterly pale and bloodless by comparison’ The Times
‘Hilary Mantel has written an epic of English history that does what the Aeneid did for the Romans and War and Peace for the Russians. We are lucky to have it.’ Sunday Telegraph
‘Very few writers manage not just to excavate the sedimented remains of the past, but bring them up again into the light and air so that they shine brightly once more before us. Hilary Mantel has done just that.’ Simon Schama, Financial Times
‘A masterpiece that will keep yielding its riches, changing as its readers change, going forward with us into the future’ Guardian
‘The most masterful story telling imaginable’ Graham Norton
‘Ambitious, compassionate, clear-eyed yet emotional, passionate and pragmatic, The Mirror & the Light lays down a marker for historical fiction that will set the standard for generations to come’ Independent
‘It’s the crowning glory of a towering achievement’ Mail on Sunday
‘Very few writers manage not just to excavate the sedimented remains of the past, but bring them up again into the light and air so that they shine brightly once more before us. Hilary Mantel has done just that’ Financial Times, Simon Scharma
‘This is a must-read’ Good Housekeeping
‘On closing the book I wept as I’ve not wept over a novel since I was a child . . . Mantel struck her spear against the flint of Thomas Cromwell, and lit such a candle in England as will never go out’
Telegraph, Sarah Perry,
‘A masterpiece . . . Mantel has redefined what the historical novel is capable of . . . Taken together, her Cromwell novels are, for my money, the greatest English novels of this century’ Observer, Stephanie Merritt
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Top international reviews
The secret to reading a Mantel "Cromwell" novel is to suspend all rules of normal fiction-writing and bask in the flow. But don't apply that technique to her dreadful early work, A Place of Greater Safety, which I think is one of the most self-indulgent books I've ever valiantly ploughed through and thoroughly disliked. (A case of "twice as good at half the length" if ever there was one.) She has come a long, long way since then, and emerged on the side of the angels.
I shall give myself a few days' rest and then read "Mirror" entirely for the prose rather than the structure of the story, and let myself wallow in some of the sublime writing and insights. Of course there are tedious or confusing passages - nothing is perfect - but this is pretty damned brilliant and in a class of its own. Well worth waiting for...
1. Family trees..... E-readers have lower resolution so all books with maps, diagrams and family trees suffer from poor clarity of these items. If the work can withstand this then I buy it. I often download a book sample to see first. In this case as it invariably is, the book is worth reading regardless. If the illustrations need scrutinised then you can download a copy of the book into the kindle applicator on your PC, browser, or tablet. The family trees are perfectly viewable on them as they are on my Kindle Voyage.
2. Price. Cheaper is better however if you cannot wait for the price to fall on release of the paperback then you have a choice of the hardback or the ebook (50p more at the time of writing). I chose ebook this time and feel that launch price is worth paying for a book this good, from an author of such skill. The author and publisher deserve to be rewarded for their work. I am grateful for being given the chance to revisit the setting and the characters.
I intend to update this review on completing the book.
Also, Cromwell seemed different in this book. I am not even sure I can articulate how, just that the character somehow felt different, not the same old familiar Cromwell from the first two books.
In addition, some of the characters who loomed larger in the first two books were minor players in this novel, which was a little disappointing as I had hoped to see more of them and how they might react to the changing events. I realise the author had to tell the story through the eyes of characters close to events and that she didn’t always have a free hand, but I still felt disappointed that some of the central characters from the first two novels barely featured and that I didn’t really get any insight into what they might have felt or thought.
The writing was beautiful and I cannot deny the author’s writing talent or the amount of historical research that went into producing such a faithful recreation of the period. However, I have just been left feeling a little underwhelmed at the end of the day. This could be my fault for perhaps expecting too much from the book, or maybe I unconsciously had my own opinion of what I expected to read in the novel and because the result is different to that I am unjustifiably feeling disappointed in it? I don’t know to be honest. I just didn’t feel the burning love for this book that I did for the others in the trilogy. Maybe I will revisit it next year and go cover to cover again and change my opinion?
However, at the moment I feel that while it is a very good book it didn’t, for me, reach the same lofty heights as its predecessors. I hate to write that because I wanted to adore it, but I didn’t and that’s that.
Will write a more in-depth review when I've finished reading. So far, so excellent. Almost feel I am in the house at Austin Friars with the noises, the smell of candles and cooking from the kitchen. And in this short number of pages, am already sensing the tension within him following the beheading of Anne.
From what I've read in this series and other books, Henry comes over as an egotistical, narcissistic, coward - is it any wonder he isn't to be trusted? Absent at the death of Katharine, absent at the beheading of Anne but off hunting - animals and his next wife.
I bought the first two books in this series as second hand books. I was so taken with them, I realised what all the fuss was about, so I pre-ordered this last instalment which came in at a great price on Amazon.
The Mirror and the Light is a world of consequences: Anne Boleyn and many of her alleged lovers are no more and the backdraft blows through this story. The book is also full of ghosts - ghosts from the story itself and made bigger by being part of English history as well. It is also full of regret and what could have been - of England, Cromwell's life and the King's. And guilt too - which half way through, begins to make itself felt more and more.
Mantel creates passages of beautiful descriptive writing as per usual, evidenced in the first two books, but what I really marvel at and enjoy is the mostly visceral dialogue which is enhanced in this volume and moves seamlessly between characters one minute, to what is going on inside the doomed Cromwell's mind the next.
There are some brilliant one liners, black humour and put downs in the dialogue. Everyone seems to know what Cromwell has done and that he will somehow pay for it and they do not hold back in pointing it out to him, sometimes joyfully, sometimes ruefully. I particularly like the verbal sparring between Chapuys and Cromwell - this has tinge of genuine affection to it but also comes across as two scorpions circling each other in a fight. You never really know who wins their encounters - they are well matched. Henry is portrayed as growing in his dangerous unpredictability, much to Cromwell's increasing discomfort.
And as the supporting characters seem to know - so do we, the readers know from history what awaits Cromwell and again it is the fictional story telling, skilfully layered on top of history itself - like a beautifully constructed dessert - that is so delicious about Mantel's writing - history and fiction so convincingly brought together, their flavours complementing each other and consumed, spoonful after a spoonful, by the reader.
There is one scene where the King is talking to Cromwell about Hippocrates 'Life is short, and art is long' aphorism (Vīta brevis, ars longa) as they both reflect on the difficulties of having to rule - or as Chaucer put it 'The lyf so short, the craft so long to lerne' (pp.375-376).
All I can say so far is that Mantel has made the most of her life and her art. This is tremendous stuff it really is, seriously good story telling with convincing characterisations and again - the history of it all driving it forward.
I tell you it is a must read!
UPDATE! I have now finished the book, and even though the portents of Cromwell's doom abound (both in the story and in history) it still comes as a surprise and also seems unfair when it happens. It is also surprising who eventually works against him and also grim seeing the means by which he brought about the downfall of others used on Cromwell himself.
Fancy living in a time like that - being close to an unpredictable personality like Henry VIII who it seems to me had disposed of Cromwell as a means of getting rid of his own guilt. A time when just an accusation could mean your death. Mantel's writing captures this obscene logic at work and Cromwell emerges as both a perpetrator and victim. Did his low birth impact on his ability to see that he was being used in rich men's dangerous games or was he a chancer whose luck just ran out? Is it more to do with his vengeful mission for Cardinal Wolsey that clouded his judgement? You decide - there is rich story telling in all 3 volumes to help you.
BTW - Mantel usefully has a short chapter at the end of the book telling us what happened next to the characters in her story which is very useful indeed.
Be warned though that the hardback version is quite heavy, so make sure you are comfortable and well supported as you settle down with it because the hours will pass by as it draws you in and your arm might well ache afterwards!
What shines through the series is that Ms Mantel has researched, researched, researched. She has equipped herself to paint a convincing picture of life among the murderous and often utterly corrupt ruling class of Tudor England, and to engrossing the reader completely.
I have learned to love the shockingly clever dialogue - amazingly, all of the characters are capable of producing brilliant comments Oscar Wilde would be proud of without a second's thought - and to gain better insight into the complex political/religious issues of that day. One must, too, respect those who would suffer grisly death rather than betray their beliefs.
With this third and final novel of the series the author completes her study if Thomas Cromwell, and I have sense of loss that I will read no more of him from her pen.
A comment about "the kings new clothes "obviously explains the 4 1/2stars given.
In conclusion half of the book was fantastic reading however the other half was not and overall the book was not worth the exorbitant price.