Hilary Mantel’s The Mirror & the Light is an Astonishing Achievement. A Masterpiece!

Hilary Mantel’s The Mirror & the Light is an Astonishing Achievement. A Masterpiece!

The long-awaited conclusion to the Wolf Hall trilogy has landed and it’s well worth the wait. Hilary Mantel’s Man Booker Prize winning novels Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies were published in 2009 and 2012 respectively. Now, the stunning conclusion has been released.

‘If you cannot speak truth at a beheading, when can you speak it?’

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?

In book #1 of the trilogy, Wolf Hall, Mantel brings the opulent, brutal world of the Tudors to bloody, glittering life. It is the backdrop to the rise and rise of Thomas Cromwell: lowborn boy, charmer, bully, master of deadly intrigue, and finally, most powerful of Henry VIII’s courtiers.

By 1535, and book #2, Bring Up the Bodies, Thomas Cromwell is Chief Minister to Henry VIII, his fortunes having risen with those of Anne Boleyn, the king’s new wife. But Anne has failed to give the king an heir, and Cromwell watches as Henry falls for plain Jane Seymour. Cromwell must find a solution that will satisfy Henry, safeguard the nation and secure his own career. But neither minister nor king will emerge unscathed from the bloody theatre of Anne’s final days.

With The Mirror and the Light, Hilary Mantel brings the trilogy to a triumphant close. She traces the final years of Thomas Cromwell, 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.

The Mirror and the Light is beautiful, brutal and, despite its weight, very difficult to put down. At nearly 900 pages, it’s a mammoth read so Mantel’s publisher Nicholas Pearson, who edited all three books also needs to be acknowledged. The structure of this book and the series as a whole is incomparable. Mantel’s writing is transcendent, and this could very well win her an unprecedented third Booker Prize. Her ability to immerse the reader in this era in such a glorious, riveting way is unparalleled. She is a master of this period in history, with grand sweeping understanding of the time as well as an innate ability to bring the minutiae to life. This is the series Tudor historians love. Do you need to read the first two books? It’s best that you do. While you’d eventually get into this as a standalone, to really savour the experience, it’s worth making the time for the whole series.

The Wolf Hall trilogy, with this glorious conclusion, is my go-to read for if I’m ever stuck on a desert island. The Mirror and the Light is an astonishing achievement, exceptional in every way. It’s a masterpiece.

 

 

 

 

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Try Our Reading Guide to Hilary Mantel's Mammoth, and Magnificent, The Mirror & the Light

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10 March 2020

Try Our Reading Guide to Hilary Mantel's Mammoth, and Magnificent, The Mirror & the Light

    Publisher details

    The Mirror & the Light
    Author
    Hilary Mantel
    Publisher
    HarperCollins
    Released
    05 March, 2020

    Synopsis

    If you cannot speak truth at a beheading, when can you speak it?'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, before Jane dies giving birth to the male heir he most craves.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.
    Hilary Mantel
    About the author

    Hilary Mantel

    Hilary Mantel is one of Britain's most accomplished, acclaimed and garlanded writers. Uniquely, her last two novels, Wolf Hall and its sequel Bring Up the Bodies, both won the Man Booker Prize for Fiction. She is is the first British author to have won two Booker prizes, the only woman to have done so and the only writer to have won with two consecutive novels. Sir Peter Stothard, Chair of the judges for the Man Booker Prize 2012, hailed her as 'the greatest modern English prose writer'. Wolf Hall is the most successful Booker winner since records began, selling over 200,000 copies in hardback, and 600,000 copies in paperback, in the UK alone.She was born in northern Derbyshire in 1952. She was educated at a convent school in Cheshire and went on to the LSE and Sheffield University, where she studied law. After university she was briefly a social worker in a geriatric hospital, and much later used her experiences in her novels Every Day is Mother's Day and Vacant Possession. In 1977 she went to live in Botswana with her husband, then a geologist. In 1982 they moved on to Jeddah in Saudi Arabia, where she would set her third novel, Eight Months on Ghazzah Street.Her first novel was published in 1985, and she returned to the UK the following year. In 1987 she was awarded the Shiva Naipaul Memorial Prize for travel writing, and became the film critic of the Spectator. Her fourth novel, Fludd, was awarded the Cheltenham Festival Prize, the Southern Arts Literature Prize, and the Winifred Holtby Prize. Her fifth novel, A Place of Greater Safety, won the Sunday Express Book of the Year Award.A Change of Climate, published in 1993, is the story of an East Anglian family, former missionaries, torn apart by conflicts generated in Southern Africa in the early years of Apartheid. An Experiment in Love, published in 1995, is a story about childhood and university life, set in London in 1970. It was awarded the Hawthornden Prize. Beyond Black, published in 2005, was shortlisted for the Orange Prize, while Wolf Hall won the 2009 Man Booker Prize, and Bring Up the Bodies, its sequel, won the 2012 Man Booker Prize. Hilary was also awarded a CBE in 2006. In 2014 she was made a Dame.She reviews widely for a range of newspapers and magazines, and is currently working on the sequel to Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, to be called The Mirror and the Light. A new short story collection, The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher, was published in 2014.

    Books by Hilary Mantel

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