The Mirror & The Light by Hilary Mantel


My goal was to finish the 30 CDs of this audiobook (757 printed pages) by its July 7 due date at the library, and I did it. Listened to every word, quite a few of them while I was keeping an eye on the Decorah Eagle Cam. Court intrigue / Pecking order.

This book is the last in Mantel’s historical fiction trilogy, set during the reign of Henry VIII and told from the point of view of Thomas Cromwell. I had previously read Wolf Hall and Bringing Up The Bodies, and had seen the staged version of Wolf Hall, too. I heard Mantel talk about The Mirror & The Light at this year’s digital Hay Festival just before I started the book, and I listened to it again after finishing it.

This book covers much of the same ground that each of the first two covers. Some of this is to be expected in a trilogy; the second book, and then the third, needs to stand complete on its own–plus this is a story with a king-sized cast of characters. Even if the reader has read the first two, who knows how long ago or how much has been retained? Nonetheless, some previous occurrences are brought up multiple times in the course of this last book. Mantel explains that she is interested in exploring Cromwell’s increasing difficulty in reading his own story, and the way we remember things slightly differently each time we recall them. I must confess that I was not a close enough listener to pick up on those nuances. My reaction was more like, “This again?”

Outside my objection to the repetition, I enjoyed working through the remainder of the story alongside Mantel. Her research is deep and her descriptive power and character development is excellent. She says that we were inside Thomas Cromwell’s head in the first two books, and she wanted to take us further in the third book–slipping, at times, into his soul. I think she accomplishes that. When Cromwell spends the last night in the Tower, knowing that it’s the last night of his life, we are forced to go through it with him. None of us, of course, knows what it is like to die on the block, but Mantel goes there in her imagination…and writes it. Fascinating.

I could say much more, but I’ll close by pointing out a feature that is particular to the audiobook format. At the end, there is a conversation between Mantel and Ben Miles, who read all three books. Ben Miles took the role of Thomas Cromwell in the Royal Shakespeare productions of Wolf Hall and Bringing Up The Bodies. Mantel said that Miles became the voice of Cromwell that she heard in her head while writing The Mirror & The Light. He was her choice for the audiobooks–a great choice, in my opinion. I particularly love the way he reads Henry’s lines. Ben says that the stage performances of his colleagues in the RSC affected his reading, so kudos to all.

If you read the first two books, you’ll want to read (or better yet, listen) to this one!

4 comments on “The Mirror & The Light by Hilary Mantel”

  1. What a review, Teri! I’m intrigued especially by your paragraph about his last night in the tower. I imagine this was great to listen to– I find myself sometimes feeling the same repetition fatigue with the Ferrante books, which is why I haven’t yet started the third. I think Strawberry Girl is probably more my speed this week. This is a strong start to summer reading, Teri! Well done on meeting your deadline 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

  2. I was totally drawn into Mantel’s first two books in this trilogy. (She won the Booker Prize for both.) I’ve been waiting so long for the last in the series; I know i’ll be glad for the repetition. I’m 11th in the cue at the library. There is still a long wait ahead. I wish I could have seen the production of Wolf Hall. Thanks for the review, Teri.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re welcome, Barbara. I think my library’s audiobook line was shorter than that for the print version. Sometimes that’s true for large print books, as well. Someday, I hope you’ll let us know what you think of The Mirror & The Light. (Did I say that Mantel is working on a staging of this third book? She said so at the Hay Festival.)


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