The Mirror & The Light

by Hilary Mantel.

The last of Mantel’s trilogy about Thomas Cromwell. Wolf Hall, the first was the best. I’d even suggest reading it again or for the first time before reading this last. Bring Up the Bodies is the second and a disappointment, not as tightly written or compelling as Wolf Hall. They both won Booker Prize, but I didn’t agree with the second. Anyway. This one is a sturdy dense long story. It captivates at times yet meanders at others, delving into the inner thoughts and complexities of the son of an abusive blacksmith from Putney who became Lord Cromwell, the most powerful man of his era. He manages King Henry VIII with some success and the king himself as a persona continues to be well-drawn, less so his queens in this novel.

Mantel uses interesting devices to tell us what Cromwell is thinking, even as he speaks. It is a smooth flowing style which does not rely on typical punctuation and brings us from third person to first person with an organic ease. A rare writing brilliance. The narrative is replete with images of light, reflection and mirrors, looking glasses on almost every page. More worthy than her second by far.

It is an 800-page tour de force with dozens of characters and settings so it takes many days to enjoy. A perfect distraction for these times.

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