Winner of the Man Booker Prize 2009
Winner of the Man Booker Prize 2012
Winner of the Costa Book of the Year 2012
Shortlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2013
Shortlisted for the Orange Prize 2009
Shortlisted for the Costa Novel Award 2009
‘A masterpiece’ Guardian
‘It is a book not read, but lived’ Telegraph
‘Her Cromwell novels are, for my money, the greatest English novels of this century’ Observer
‘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?
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.
A Guardian Book of the Year • A Times Book of the Year • A Daily Telegraph Book of the Year
About the author
Hilary Mantel is the author of seventeen books, including A Place of Greater Safety, Beyond Black, the memoir Giving Up the Ghost and the short story collection The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher. Her latest novel, The Mirror & the Light, won the Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction, while Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies were both awarded the Booker Prize.
Wolf from the door
British. Dame Hilary Mantel DBE FRSL to be precise. Now late 60s. Already well known, at least in British literary circles, with a number of prizes and awards to her name by the early naughties for her historical novels, memoirs, short stories, and criticism. Her career went supernova after the publication of Wolf Hall (2009), a fictionalised version of the life of Thomas Cromwell, a low born Londoner whose intelligence and cunning saw him rise to great power in the court of King Henry VIII. She won the Man Booker Prize for it, and again for the sequel Bring Up The Bodies (2012), becoming just the fourth writer, and the first woman, to win twice. 2012 was also the first, and so far only, time a sequel has won the Booker. The third part of the trilogy, The Mirror and the Light (2020) was longlisted, but went no further. Along the way, Ms Mantel has collected the Walter Scott Prize and the Costa Prize among others for her Cromwell books.
I have tried to read Wolf Hall several times over the years, and Bring Up The Bodies once, but never made it past 200 pages. (There are so many pages). While Ms Mantel's prose is finely crafted, there's an awful lot of it, and her penchant for shuttling back and forth in time with little warning is a trial.
Frequent referral to the family trees supplied in the foreword or afterword made for a disjointed reading experience, but was necessary because there were just so many of characters. It didn't help that half the men seemed to be named Thomas (Wolsey, Cromwell, Audley, More, Cranmer the list goes on), or that Ms M's third person narrative kept referring to her protagonist as "he," even when it defied grammatical logic. e.g. The day before Kafoops died, he went to see the cardinal. To me, that means Kafoops went to see the dude in the red hat, but to Ms M, it means Tom-Crom did. WTAF? Someone must have had a go at her about it after Book 1, because she mostly uses "he, Cromwell" in the latter two books. (I suspect a low paid editorial assistant was tasked with doing the largest ever 'Find and Replace' in history). And why "he, Cromwell"? Why not just "Cromwell."
I made no serious attempt at The Mirror and the Light because multiple reviews suggested there wasn't much action, just a lot of reflective navel gazing by our boy, up until he got his head chopped off anyway.
The abridged audio trilogy under review cut out a lot of waffle that some might call literature, made the action much more readily understandable through use of different actors in different roles, and helped me understand what all the fuss has been, and still is, about. To cut a long story short, the first book is about the rise of Thomas C, the second has him at the top of his game, and the third his downfall. I still needed to check out Wikipedia frequently, but greatly enjoyed the overall experience. I felt exactly the same way about George Saunders' Lincoln in the Bardo, which I had given up on until the audio version brought it to life.
Thomas Cromwell was the Francis Underwood of his day.
Wolf Hall Manor in Wiltshire is still there today, although it looks nothing like it did back in the day. The medieval version, Wulfhall, was the home of the Seymour family until the 1570s. Jane Seymour was Henry VIII's 3rd wife and the only one to give him a male heir, a pyrrhic victory considering she died as a complication of childbirth and the kid, who became Edward IV, only made it to the age of 9.