Cover image for The mirror & the light
Title:
The mirror & the light
ISBN:
9780805096606
Edition:
1st U.S ed.
Physical Description:
xvii, 757 pages : genealogical table ; 24 cm
Summary:
"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 the 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 & 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. --
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Summary

Summary

The brilliant #1 New York Times bestseller

With The Mirror & the Light , Hilary Mantel brings to a triumphant close the trilogy she began with her peerless, Booker Prize-winning novels, 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.

The story begins in 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, 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, a man with only his wits to rely on, 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 the breaking point, Cromwell's robust imagination sees a new country in the mirror of the future. All of England lies at his feet, ripe for innovation and religious reform. But as fortune's wheel turns, Cromwell's enemies are gathering in the shadows. The inevitable question remains: how long can anyone survive under Henry's cruel and capricious gaze?

Eagerly awaited and eight years in the making, The Mirror & the Light completes Cromwell's journey from self-made man to one of the most feared, influential figures of his time. Portrayed by Mantel with pathos and terrific energy, Cromwell is as complex as he is unforgettable: a politician and a fixer, a husband and a father, a man who both defied and defined his age.


Author Notes

Hilary Mantel was born in Glossop, Derbyshire, England on July 6, 1952. She studied law at the London School of Economics and Sheffield University. She worked as a social worker in Botswana for five years, followed by four years in Saudi Arabia. She returned to Britain in the mid-1980s. In 1987 she was awarded the Shiva Naipaul Memorial Prize for an article about Jeddah. She worked as a film critic for The Spectator from 1987 to 1991.

She has written numerous books including Eight Months on Ghazzah Street, A Place of Greater Safety, A Change of Climate, The Giant, O'Brien, Giving up the Ghost: A Memoir, and Beyond Black. She has won several awards for her work including the Winifred Holtby Memorial Prize, the Cheltenham Prize and the Southern Arts Literature Prize for Fludd; the 1996 Hawthornden Prize for An Experiment in Love, the 2009 Man Booker Prize for Wolf Hall, and the 2012 Man Booker Prize for Bring up the Bodies. She made The New York Times Best Seller List with her title The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher.

(Bowker Author Biography)


Reviews 5

Publisher's Weekly Review

In Mantel's magisterial conclusion to the Wolf Hall trilogy, Henry VIII's fixer, Thomas Cromwell, is everywhere. Born poor, Cromwell has risen to Viceregent, Privy Seal, and Baron, with more than a fair share of blood on his hands. The story picks up where Bring Up the Bodies left off, with Cromwell, now in his 50s, witnessing the execution of Anne Boleyn. Cromwell reconciles the king to his stubbornly Catholic daughter, supervises the printing of the English Bible, and arranges the king's marriage to Anne of Cleves. Meanwhile, Cromwell reflects on his crimes and remembers his impoverished youth ("we yearn for our origins; we yearn for an innocent terrain"). In Henry's court, everyone has a grudge; key issues, whether religious, personal, or political, are decided according to who has the king's ear; and disagreement is easily framed as treason. Mantel's craft shines at the sentence level and in a deep exploration of her themes: Henry sees himself as "the mirror and light" to all other princes, but Cromwell is Henry's secret mirror, the record of the king's weaknesses and compromises. Cromwell keeps turning wreckage into building materials, until, that is, the wreckage is his. The series' first two books won the Booker Prize--the third, rich with memory and metaphor--may be even better. (Mar.)


Guardian Review

So the trilogy is complete, and it is magnificent. The portrait of Thomas Cromwell that began with Wolf Hall (2009) and continued with Bring Up the Bodies (2012) now concludes with a novel of epic proportions, every bit as thrilling, propulsive, darkly comic and stupendously intelligent as its predecessors. "Concludes" is perhaps not the word, for there is no tone of finality. Cromwell, Lord Privy Seal, deputy head of the church in England, chief minister, second man of the realm, Cremuel to the imperial ambassador, Crumb to friends, has a great deal of business to do, through 900 pages, before we contemplate endings. The heights of his power are all before us, and though he likes ladders and cranes of construction sites, for his own progress he prefers to think of wings. Bring Up the Bodies closed with bloodshed and wreckage. "But it's useful wreckage, isn't it?" and now Cromwell uses it, strenuously remodelling catastrophes as opportunities. Over four years, 1536-40, his tasks include the seemingly impossible. He must reconcile Lady Mary to her father the king, bring down two of the most powerful families in Europe, turn monks into money, prevent imperial invasion, organise a new queen. Taking opponents in his grasp like the snake whose poisoned bite he once survived, he must manoeuvre his arch-enemies the Duke of Norfolk and Stephen Gardiner. Cromwell lives these years with henchmen at his back, and guards at every door. "The times being what they are, a man may enter the gate as your friend and change sides while he crosses the courtyard." As for clothes, best try a reversible garment: "one never knows, is it dying or dancing?" We can already tell the shape of this book. We see that the crowd dispersing after Anne Boleyn's execution in the opening pages ("time for a second breakfast") will gather again at its close. Working with and against our foreknowledge, Mantel keeps us on the brink, each day to be invented. "Scaramella's off to war," hums Cromwell, a tune from his Italian youth. You need a war-song to go into dinner. This is what it's like to be at the centre of power in Tudor England, and also a particular understanding of what it is, anywhere, to be alive. The Mirror & the Light is generously self-sufficient - to read this alone would hardly be skimping: it is four or five books in itself. But it also continues, deepens, and revises its forebears, negotiating with its past as does Cromwell with his. A spring lightly touched opens corridors into earlier books. Unlock the "room called Christmas" now and its past leaps out: this is where the doomed lutenist Mark Smeaton shrieked through the night among festive decorations that appeared, in his terror, as implements of torture. We know our way around Cromwell's home Austin Friars and what these walls have seen. "My past pads after me, paws on the flagstones," thinks Cromwell, who builds new houses and watches old ghosts enter. He knows the power of palimpsests. His Reformation involves the whitewashing of walls, but he sees how old faces show through from underneath. The Mirror & the Light is startlingly fresh in every moment, a new-made story with predecessors close enough to bleed through the pages. Mantel's Cromwell, now in his 50s, keeps the same daunting schedules as ever through 18-hour days. Lawyer, banker, chief diplomat, he is master of the grand scheme and every last memorandum. "Bear in mind," he tells a friend and spy, "my field of interest is very wide." He knows the price of wool and alum, and market values in the court's "inner economy" of gossip and shame. He has drained the roads, reintroduced beavers, grafted better plums. And still his life depends entirely on Henry's favour. Should the king die, or withdraw his love, all is lost. A moment's inattention and the structure falls: hence the difficulty of sleep, hence the disaster of illness in which, through absence, one loses the advantage. "You are one man," says Margaret Pole. "Who follows you? Only carrion crows." She is restating the terms of class warfare. The central conflict between the self-made blacksmith's son and his aristocratic opponents (Norfolks, Courtenays, Poles) intensifies along with Cromwell's power. As his chief of staff Wriothesley correctly observes, "The higher you rise in the king's service, the more you mention the low place you come from." His country, too, is obsessed by the relationship of class and power. The labouring rebels who march in the Pilgrimage of Grace uprising cry vengeance on the "vile blood" of any lowborn who tries to rule them. In Cromwell's rearrangement of hierarchies, intelligence is all; those not clever enough to save themselves are not worth sympathy. Yet if he is the figurehead of a new meritocracy, he badly compromises his position as he funnels influence into his own family, bringing a new dynasty into being. Though many readers have responded to the modern secularity of her fictional Cromwell, Mantel has always been firm about the strength of his religious conviction. Here she puts the evangelical cause at the centre of his life's work. He is a heretic, and acts on it, risking everything for the gospel translation he wants to see in every parish and for his country's alliance with Europe's Protestant centres. Among the book's most complex and fascinating subjects is the character of the Reformation that he passionately apprehends. Modern times may sharpen our sense of Cromwell's internationalism. If his England is to prosper, it must join every conversation across the courts and marketplaces of the continent. He employs in his household the best linguists to be found. As a boy in the kitchens of the Frescobaldi banking house, he was promoted upstairs for his quick wits and knowledge of the English used on the docks and streets; Wolsey employed him for his Italian; now he calls on ruffians and survivors from across the world to work for him. As much as this is a book about statecraft, international relations, class, faith and power, it must count, too, among the most penetrating studies of professional friendship: the complicated, unequal relations of masters and servants, tutors and proteges, kings and their ministers. "Henry and Cromwell. Cromwell and Henry": they step apart from the court to talk alone, needing each other in desperate though different ways. Cromwell's most vehement love and loyalty, however, belongs to a dead man, Thomas Wolsey: his teacher, employer and elected father. It is the quietest but perhaps the most acute calamity of the novel when Wolsey's ghost ceases to talk, leaving him "without company, without advice". He can but turn to those he in turn has sponsored. Rafe Sadler, Thomas Wriothesley: "he has trained them, encouraged them, written them as versions of himself". Watchfully, appreciatively, resisting hindsight, the novel asks what they have learned. "There is nothing against the recreation of the dead," Cromwell says, "as long as they are plausible." He has just employed Holbein to paint the past kings of England, inventing their unknown faces. It's as if he is glancing towards Mantel, signalling permission. Where evidence survives, she uses it; where there is silence, she offers deeply informed guesses about the world as it looked to him. It's characteristically bracing of her to consider the horror of finding that one's life is wrongly told: Cromwell has forced on many victims an "estrangement of self" and suffers in his turn from contortions of evidence, wilful misreadings. Of the book's many mirrors, this is the most disturbing: the glass in which the truth of your life is stolen away and reconfigured. Mantel's project is to offer a clearer reflection, a more plausible hypothesis, a more telling illumination. She is still exuberantly rethinking what novels can do. Not since Bleak House has the present tense performed such magic. The narrative voice rides at times like a spirit or angel on thermals of vitality, catching the turning seasons, the rhythms of work and dreams, cities and kitchens and heartbeats. Mantel did not have much to learn about scene-setting or dramatic timing, but her involvement in the staging of Wolf Hall, and the experience of watching the television adaptation, may have contributed to an ever-finer honing of dialogue. In a room at the Tower, in the time it takes to burn two candles, a prisoner's silence mounts towards confession. On a thundery midsummer night, talking quietly in a garden tower at Canonbury, eating strawberries while the moon comes up, two men arrange the future "a hair's-breadth at a time". Endings, insists Cromwell, are opportunities. What begins now is the rereading. For this is a masterpiece that will keep yielding its riches, changing as its readers change, going forward with us into the future.


Kirkus Review

The end comes for Thomas Cromwell--and for the brilliant trilogy about his life that began with Wolf Hall (2009) and Bring Up the Bodies (2012). "Once the queen's head is severed, he walks away": With this perfect sentence, Mantel plunges into the scene of Anne Boleyn's execution, and there's no need to spell out who "he" is. On the second page, the executioner, who was brought over from France, refers to him as Cremuel ("No Frenchman can ever pronounce his name"), and finally, a few paragraphs later, when the swordsman is showing off the special blade he used on the queen, "he, Cromwell, touches a finger to the metal." And we're off, knowing that by the end it will be Cromwell's head that rolls. (We can only hope his executioner will be as meticulous.) In the meantime, we get more of everything we'd expect from Mantel's evocation of the reign of Henry VIII: power, rivalry, strategy, love, loyalty, ambition, regret, loneliness, lust--all centered on the magnetic Cromwell, a man who knows everything from the number of soldiers commanded by each nobleman in England to the secret desires of their wives and daughters. The narrative voice is as supple and insinuating as ever, but the tone is more contemplative--now that the newly made Lord Cromwell has attained the loftiest heights, he returns often to certain touchstones from his past--while the momentum drives forward to our hero's inevitable fall. (Perhaps it could have driven forward a little more relentlessly; it does occasionally idle.) Cromwell has become almost a bogeyman to the people of England, and Mantel describes his reputation with characteristic dry humor: "He means to…tamper with the baker's scales, and fix liquid measures in his favour. The man is like a weasel, who eats his own weight every day." Mantel has created a vivid 16th-century universe, but sometimes it feels like she's speaking directly to her modern reader, particularly about the role of women: "Try smiling. You'll be surprised how much better you feel. Not that you can put it like that to a woman…she might take it badly." A triumph. Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.


Booklist Review

At 50, Thomas Cromwell is "the second man in England," serving dangerously tempestuous Henry VIII, and his "chief duty (it seems just now) is to get the king new wives and dispose of the old." A responsibility that will catalyze his violent undoing. Mantel has imagined Cromwell's life in ways never before conceived in her resoundingly popular Wolf Hall (2009) and Bring Up the Bodies (2012), each a Man Booker winner. The longed-for final volume in Mantel's magnificent trilogy is also a stupendously knowledgeable, empathic, witty, harrowing, and provocative novel of power and its distortions. Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII's second wife, has just been beheaded, yet, desperate for a male heir, he insists on immediately marrying Jane Seymour, who subsequently dies after giving birth to Edward VI. Cromwell has many fires to stamp out, especially since Henry's annulment of his first marriage ignited a fierce battle between Catholics and Protestants. Commoner Cromwell, a disciplined and inexhaustible master of the art of coercion, is finally elevated to Lord, but he is increasingly besieged as Anne Cleves becomes Henry's fourth queen. Astute, strategic, sly, funny, poignant, and doomed, Cromwell rules these vivid pages, yet every character and setting resonates, and Mantel's virtuoso, jousting dialogue is exhilarating. Gossip, insults, bribes, lies, threats, jealousy, revenge, all propel this delectably shrewd and transfixing Tudor tragedy, this timeless saga of the burden of rule, social treacheries, and the catastrophic cost of indulging a raving despot.HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: Cromwell fever is again running high; multiple copies of Mantel's finale are in order, and it's wise to check the shelves for her two previous Tudor masterpieces.


Library Journal Review

In this wrap-up to Mantel's trilogy on the life of Thomas Cromwell, begun with the Booker Prize winners Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, Anne Boleyn has been separated from her head, and the blacksmith's son from Putney is sitting pretty. But not for long: rebels rouse in England, traitors scheme abroad, invasion remains a constant threat, and Henry VIII's third wife dies delivering his much-wanted son. Henry might demand loyalty, but he's loyal to no one, so Cromwell must watch his back. Obviously, great expectations for this book, its predecessors having have sold five million copies worldwide.