Today, it’s a big one! It’s a review of the last part of the Cromwell trilogy by Hilary Mantel… The Mirror & The Light.
First of all, the shortlist of the Women’s Prize 2020 was announced last night and it’s a great list of six books! I read them all just before the announcement and it was a wonderful experience and I’m so happy that The Mirror & The Light was on the list, too! But before we go any further… what’s it about exactly? Here’s the synopsis:
England, May 1536. Anne Boleyn is dead, decapitated in the space of a heartbeat by a hired French executioner. As her remains are bundled into oblivion, Thomas Cromwell breakfasts with the victors. The blacksmith’s son from Putney emerges from the spring’s bloodbath to continue his climb to power and wealth, while his formidable master, Henry VIII, settles to short-lived happiness with his third queen, Jane Seymour.
Cromwell is a man with only his wits to rely on; he has no great family to back him, no private army. Despite rebellion at home, traitors plotting abroad and the threat of invasion testing Henry’s regime to breaking point, Cromwell’s robust imagination sees a new country in the mirror of the future. But can a nation, or a person, shed the past like a skin? Do the dead continually unbury themselves? What will you do, the Spanish ambassador asks Cromwell, when the king turns on you, as sooner or later he turns on everyone close to him?
With The Mirror and the Light, Hilary Mantel brings to a triumphant close the trilogy she began with Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies. She traces the final years of Thomas Cromwell, the boy from nowhere who climbs to the heights of power, offering a defining portrait of predator and prey, of a ferocious contest between present and past, between royal will and a common man’s vision: of a modern nation making itself through conflict, passion and courage.
I was late to the trilogy but when the news of this book came out, I immediately pre-ordered it and made myself the challenge of reading the previous two books! I ordered Wolf Hall but I put it down as I couldn’t get into it and then cut to a few months before The Mirror & The Light was published, I flew through it and really enjoyed it and I finished Bring Up The Bodies in a few days too and really loved it (probably my favourite). The two books in the trilogy have seen massive success, it has won the Booker Prize twice, cementing Hilary Mantel to the top in literature. And The Mirror & The Light is no exception.
It took me a while to properly get into this because I had just finished the previous two books so I was in a bit of a book hangover and I think it was just pure excitement of getting into the book. It’s a big book, almost 900 pages, it can be hard work, but it’s worth it. But over the past couple of days, I’ve sat down and read big chunks of it and I couldn’t put it down. When I finished it, I was so tired and exhausted from it I had to go to bed really early – I just couldn’t put it down. This is the concluding part in the trilogy travelling through the last four years of Cromwell’s life and it’s a masterpiece just like the rest of the trilogy.
“If Henry is the mirror, he is the pale actor who sheds no lustre of his own, but spins in a reflected light. If the light moves he is gone.”
The writing is astonishingly good. It’s sharp, distinct, layered, complex, heartbreaking, poetic, and more. You can just tell she’s a master of her craft in writing and her passion for the man of Thomas Cromwell – it shines right throughout the book. It has everything you want and more. There’s lot’s of call backs to the last two books and there are ghosts haunting in the background of the novel – especially Anne Boleyn…
It’s a triumph, a masterpiece, a massive part of culture and literature. Those final pages will stay with me for quite a while – I found it incredibly haunting and beautiful at the same time. I couldn’t have thought of a better ending to a glorious, brilliant trilogy.
Will Mantel win the Booker Prize for the third time? It seems likely… will she win the Women’s Prize? Will she win both? Who knows… but from those three words: “So get up!” to this, this brilliant, layered, complex, dazzling trilogy. All hail Hilary!
Have you read The Mirror & The Light? What did you think? Let me know in the comments!