...magnificent ... The portrait of Thomas Cromwell...now concludes with a novel of epic proportions, every bit as thrilling, propulsive, darkly comic and stupendously intelligent as its predecessors ... orking with and against our foreknowledge, Mantel keeps us on the brink, each day to be invented ... 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 ... [Mantel] 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 ... 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.
...we all know how the story ends. And this is where Mantel’s supreme artistry is most evident: she creates suspense and apprehension where none should exist ... These books are precision-engineered, and none more so than The Mirror and the Light. It may be less obviously dramatically focused than Bring Up the Bodies, which spanned less than a year and concentrated almost exclusively on events leading up to Anne’s death, but the plot here is shaped as meticulously as any thriller. Chekhov’s gun is there on every page: words spoken carelessly or in jest are later repeated in a court of law, their meaning twisted; gifts given in innocence are produced with new motives ascribed. The technical skill required to marshall the events of these four years between 1536 and 1540...while rendering those events comprehensible and dramatic to contemporary readers, is breathtaking ... There is nothing sentimental in Cromwell’s end, only the most devastating humanity, leaving the reader with stopped breath and a sense of amazement, after closing the book, that the real world is continuing outside. It feels redundant to state that The Mirror and the Light is a masterpiece. With this trilogy, Mantel has redefined what the historical novel is capable of; she has given it muscle and sinew, enlarged its scope, and created a prose style that is lyrical and colloquial, at once faithful to its time and entirely recognisable to us. Taken together, her Cromwell novels are, for my money, the greatest English novels of this century. Someone give the Booker Prize judges the rest of the year off.
...the tightly symmetrical trajectories that organized the first two volumes and generated their morals and meanings have gone. This book has to embrace a concatenation of major events, any one of which could be the matter of an entire novel ... Unfortunately, it’s beyond even her skill to hold these disparate happenings together, and the result is a bloated and only occasionally captivating work ... To be sure, this huge canvas, expertly painted as always, offers many of the pleasures you’ve come to expect of Mantel and her Cromwell books. These include stretches of sumptuous prose; something about the Tudor milieu has brought greater amplitude and gorgeousness to Mantel’s style. Throughout, there are swoony passages that—like certain Dutch paintings of the century after Cromwell’s—exult in cataloguing the material richness of a society newly confident in itself: the food and the fabrics, the jewels and the spices, the meats, the tapestries, the wines ... The hubris theme is too intermittent, too submerged beneath the exhausting accumulation of events and details, to make things cohere. Other tactics fall short, too ... By the time you get to Cromwell’s execution—a brilliantly imagined moment, and perhaps the best single scene here—the incidents and details, all no doubt with some basis in history, have overwhelmed any discernible pattern ... for all the additional events it relates, nothing in The Mirror and the Light is really new—or, I should say, really 'novel.' The great quantity of matter here will no doubt satisfy fans of both the Tudors and Mantel; but since when was that the point? If an author has told a tale well, given it a firm shape and delineated its themes, brought its hero sufficiently to life to leave an indelible impression, she’s done her job. Everything else is just words, words, words.
Mantel has reimagined one of the least beloved figures in British history as one of the most extraordinary men of his age, and the age itself as a sort of horse-drawn gangsters’ paradise: a world of extreme brutality, where untold rewards are available to those with the strength and guile to go out and take them. In Mantel’s hands, the story of the Tudors loses all its heavy familiarity and starts to feel like a custom-built vehicle for her muscular prose and savage wit, not to mention her lifelong concern with violence and evil, religion and ghosts ... the page-by-page texture of the writing in The Mirror & the Light is just as rich and interesting as ever, the pacing and the distribution of scenes are just as lively, and the details every bit as funny ... This volume doesn’t perfectly tessellate with its predecessors, and reading the three novels back-to-back is at times a mildly woozying experience ... Hilary Mantel’s prodigious feat is to have given Cromwell another face, one that he might even have recognized as his own; she has cast a dazzling new light onto the tarnished mirror of the past.
One of the achievements of the novel is to hold off the future for so long that when it comes we have almost stopped expecting it ... There is a great deal of harping...on Cromwell’s 'vile blood'—his lowly origins as the son of a blacksmith and his inflated pretensions ... the details of plots and counterplots, with their bewildering lists of names...can seem overwhelming ... But the imbalance is not because there is too much history in The Mirror and the Light, but rather because there is too little of the 'real.' It is difficult to believe in Mantel’s Cromwell anymore, and hard to care about him. The man we met in Wolf Hall was a subtle, ambitious, quick-witted, and oddly mysterious creation ... A thousand pages and more than ten years later, he has become, perhaps inevitably, a much more solid and predictable figure. Where once you could trick yourself into believing that you were reading about a real person, feeling his way with the help and hindrances of his desires, frailties, and limitations, it is now all too obvious that he’s a character in a book. His personality has been raised to the level of a theme, that of the commoner made good, a heroic cipher for the age.
... a lavish processional, rich in perception and texture. There are images of unbearable beauty, and images of unspeakable depravity. There are the foul intrigues of the nobility, as careless of their adversaries as they are of the common people ... There is a restlessness to the text, a debt to beauty which engrosses. The book is perhaps half a million words; a good book is as long as it needs to be.
It’s a stunning capstone to an epic that’s both engrossing history and an unsurpassed literary achievement ... The Mirror and the Light is long and lacks the galvanizing presence of Boleyn, whose arc drove the earlier novels. (Henry’s third and fourth queens, Jane Seymour and Anne of Cleves, are realized here, but they’re no match for Boleyn’s Lady Macbeth antics.) Mantel has far more political ground and plot twists to cover, requiring a reader’s patience with the intricacies of backroom deals and the fledgling Reformation. But the narrative never feels like a maze; Mantel’s language sings gloriously across the register, from lyric to comic to tragic, her punctuation and use of pronouns as liquid and expressionistic as Monet’s brushwork in his late canvases ... The Mirror and the Light is a diadem of riches, binding together the complex pieces of Cromwell’s character while leading inexorably toward the scaffold. With the trilogy now complete, Mantel cements her position as one of our greatest literary stylists and innovators.
Mantel, as usual, slightly pulls her punches, keeping Cromwell sympathetic by making the stabbing half an accident from his point of view, as if she doesn’t trust that we will stick with the character otherwise ... Mantel also uses the archival record in interesting ways ... While The Mirror & The Light may not win the Booker, as the previous two volumes did, it certainly sticks the difficult landing, and adds something new to the trilogy. It’s too long, at over 700 pages, and has a few odd tics...but it’s a solid end to a trilogy that has, from its first volume, pushed the boundaries of historical fiction. The length of the book offers the opportunity to sink into Mantel’s gorgeous and precise prose. And it complicates the first two books.
It is a moving narrative arc. Mantel has turned the oft-vilified Cromwell into a bizarrely compelling and omnicompetent hero of great psychological complexity ... Mantel, as a literary mind, is difficult to
categorize. She is not just a skillful or stylish or
insightful novelist—though she is all of those. She
is what I would call a great novelist, 'a prolific,
protean figure' as The Guardian has put it, one 'who doesn’t fit many of the established
pigeonholes for women writers.' Her material is
both magisterial and intimate, historical and
contemporary, ranging from European political history to 1980s Saudi Arabia to her own struggles
with severe endometriosis ... Part of what makes the Wolf Hall trilogy so extraordinary is its fidelity to historical detail ... Mantel engages the past on its own terms, a less-than-fashionable approach in an era when most historical fiction of literary status uses speculative or postmodern distortions to elide the question of accuracy altogether ... The novels’ sensory description is immersive and rich—vivid renderings of fine garments and cloth provide much sensual and thematic texture to The Mirror and the Light—yet tightly controlled, never a mere showcase of the author’s research, as in the unwieldy popular fiction of, say, Diana Gabaldon. And unlike most novels about the Tudors, Mantel’s are not romances ... She makes the fiction flexible,
fluid, allowing it to conform to events as they really
happened, in all their awkwardness, without
manufacturing drama or carving facts into a
shapely narrative ... The past, here, is a fully imagined universe, not a world seen only through some lens of the present
...the triumphant capstone to Mantel’s trilogy on Thomas Cromwell ... At more than 700 pages, this is the longest book in the series, the most mournful — and the slackest. It lacks the formal play (and humor) of Wolf Hall and the ruthless compression of Bring Up the Bodies, ... This new novel is a different creature — Cromwell is a different creature, less tentative and more ruminative ... The startling, bony style of the first two books has been abandoned. The prose is plush, the sentences longer and more adorned, tricked out with little tassels and extended metaphors. Even as certain pages proved a slog, certain scenes repetitive, even as I entertained heretical thoughts about pruning certain sections, or striking them entirely, these choices follow a certain logic ... This is not a younger man’s book, not a book of striving. It is a novel of late middle age, a novel of preserving what one has seized ... Above all, it is a novel of living with the dead.
In The Mirror and the Light, the majestic and often breathtakingly poetic conclusion to her Cromwell trilogy, Hilary Mantel has been astute enough to deal with this double-nature of the past by making it her great theme ... [an] engulfing total sensory immersion in a world as completely vanished as Henry’s Nonsuch Palace, materialised through feats of voice, vision, touch and taste. Voice is paramount since it needs to be immediately accessible without jarring anachronism. I have no idea what vocal (and pensive) models Mantel chose for Cromwell but in Montaigne’s Essays and Erasmus she has writing styles that are often close to utterance and are exactly poised between modern bluntness and Renaissance self-interrogation ... It’s true that passages of noun-bloat swell the volume to gargantuan heft. But this reader wouldn’t want a word less. Mantel’s description-addiction is a means of conveying the texture of the material world in the unfolding story ... as with the most powerful and enduring historical fictions the book grips the reader most tightly when, as is often the case, the writing comes as close to poetry as prose ever may. The imagery is by turns fantastically airborne and materially concrete ... Very few writers manage not just to excavate the sedimented remains of the past, but bring them up again into the light and air so that they shine brightly once more before us. Hilary Mantel has done just that.
She brings Cromwell’s unlikely, compelling story to a moving close in her brilliant new book ... There is much beauty in this book, especially in the luxuries of the court—Mantel’s rich descriptions of meals and fashions will make you want to eat plums and quail and then go shopping for embroidered velvets. More subtle beauties are found in Cromwell’s appreciation of the natural world, of tender dawns and icy nights. Mantel enthralls with her descriptions of royal life, from its bizarre rites and traditions to its practicalities ... To both the glories and the gore of Tudor England, Mantel brings an entirely contemporary eye. Her research is prodigious, her skill at complex plotting breathtaking, but her greatest strength is her characters and the dialogue she imagines for them.
The past catches up with Thomas Cromwell in the searing finale of Hilary Mantel’s magnificent trilogy ... she builds suspense by turning us into alarmed onlookers who want desperately to seize him by the shoulders and cry, 'Don’t you see what’s happening?' Cromwell is still a nimble operator, and Mantel provides many scenes—a few too many, in the novel’s overstuffed middle section—of the elaborate maneuvering that also enlivened her first two Booker Prize-winning volumes ... As always, Mantel is clear-eyed yet compassionate in depicting her coldly calculating, covertly idealistic protagonist and the equally complex people he encounters in his rise and fall from power. Dense with resonant metaphors and alive with discomfiting ideas, The Mirror and the Light provides a fittingly Shakespearean resolution to Mantel’s magisterial work.
The Mirror and the Light, at more than 750 pages, is a novel with a lot less narrative drive than its predecessors—no matter how false Cromwell’s sense of security, or how ominous the doom that closes in on him ... The novel bogs down with portentous conversations and remodeling plans and municipal updates and protocol. Cromwell faltering hasn’t the power to bind all these details together the way that Cromwell ascendant did ... The Cromwell of The Mirror and the Light is beset by ghosts...his past seems to be devouring him ..When Wolf Hall came out, the notion of a professional class rising to rule on the strength of its knowledge and competence felt almost inevitable. Bring Up the Bodies showed that consolidating power usually requires feeding a beast of some species. The Mirror and the Light is a protracted journey to arrive at the conclusion that expertise, talent, and tireless commitment are not enough to hold it. This is a novel of its time, despite appearances. No wonder Mantel puts her ending off for so long.
... a brilliant engagement with the exercise and metaphysics of power in 16th-century Europe, an age in which sovereignty was understood to be divinely conferred, channeled through blood. This puts the emphasis on bodies, one of Ms. Mantel’s specialties. Throughout the work she has given grisly attention to flesh and blood, writing with macabre relish of the horrors inflicted by various methods of judicial killing: decapitation; hanging, drawing and quartering; burning at the stake. She fills Cromwell’s head with such ghastly scenes, among them the aftermath of the executions of Anne’s supposed lovers, their 'corpses, promiscuous, heaped upon a cart: their pale English limbs intermingled, their heads in sodden bags' ... All this we can find in histories and biographies, but it is Ms. Mantel’s depiction of Cromwell’s inner workings, so credibly and vividly imagined, that make the work great, as do the characters she summons. Filtered through Cromwell’s eyes, they are described with fantastical brio ... Ms. Mantel has wonderfully conjured the mentality, materiality and channels of power in a vanished age, and, in the case of Cromwell, the objectives, machinations and emotions of an intricate mind ... For all its magnificence and scope, however, this final volume is really too long, with too many wearisome pages spent fossicking through Cromwell’s proliferating memories.
Clogged with researched data, The Mirror & the Light can be a painfully slow read, sometimes like wading through a Sargasso Sea of Tudor haberdashery, 16th-century foodstuffs, aristocratic genealogies and dynastic matrimonial entanglements ... Ominously prefaced by a five-and-a-half-page list of characters and two five-generation royal family trees, the novel is as overpopulated as it is overloaded ... Paradoxically, the novel seems at once voluminous and limited. Its concentration on the silky reptile pit of the court and the doublet-and-hose tribalism of the great families means that there’s only a very distanced sense of the shattering cataclysms wreaked by Cromwell’s religious policies. Though Mantel doesn’t flinch from conveying pain...she is less effective at transmitting dread, the clammy terror overshadowing the period ... Her trilogy is a phenomenal achievement, but in The Mirror & the Light it’s more a phenomenon of amassed information and tireless enthusiasm than triumphant creativity.
The momentum of Bring Up the Bodies gives way here to something heavier and darker, slow but no less effective for it. (There's no rush. At some point, isn't the future just more of the past, except that now you recognize the oncoming disasters you can do nothing about?) ... brings immediacy to every corner of its world; details never vanish no matter how many pile up. Mantel negotiates this dread the same way she negotiates Cromwell's ceaseless mental inventory of his household and the things and people in it: a vein of historical minutiae, a signal that now he has to approach even himself like an estate, and the far-off sound of the storm ... marks a triumphant end to a spellbinding story.
... [a] masterwork trilogy ... The final and longest Cromwell novel lacks the blazing focus of the prior two – it’s a slower read, with more slack in the intrigue and rumination in the prose ... But every page is rich with insight, the soul-deep characterization and cutting observational skill that make Mantel’s trilogy such a singular accomplishment ... a detailed history, capturing the struggles of church and state, kings and queens, England and Europe, all through Mantel’s exquisite study of Thomas Cromwell, arcing dutifully, beautifully toward this one man’s death.
Cromwell is still a nimble operator, and Mantel provides many scenes — a few too many, in the novel’s overstuffed middle section — of the elaborate maneuvering that also enlivened her first two Booker Prize-winning volumes ... As always, Mantel is clear-eyed yet compassionate in depicting her coldly calculating, covertly idealistic protagonist and the equally complex people he encounters in his rise and fall from power. Dense with resonant metaphors and alive with discomfiting ideas, The Mirror and the Light provides a fittingly Shakespearean resolution to Mantel’s magisterial work.
The Mirror and the Light, the third and final book...is another crowded Tudor panoply viewed entirely through the eyes of Cromwell, whose nature is as labyrinthine as the palace corridors he superintends ... For all its political and literary plotting, The Mirror and the Light is most memorable for its portraiture, with Cromwell acting as our Holbein, challenging us to weigh his interpretive assessments against our enormous accumulated knowledge of his concerns, biases and kinks ... It is impossible not to admit that this final volume, nearly twice the length of the more kinetic Bring Up the Bodies, becomes woefully labored. Thomas Cromwell is a marvelous prism and a phenomenally round character, but by the time we’ve had 1,700 pages of him, he is drastically overdetermined. Some of the repetition may stem from a desire to give each volume in the trilogy a degree of autonomy, but in this latest book one senses Mantel’s simply excessive zeal in sculpting the protagonist ... The Wolf Hall trilogy is probably the greatest historical fiction accomplishment of the past decade; the first two volumes both won Man Booker Prizes. But after Bring Up the Bodies the enterprise, like Henry, has put on weight and self-importance. The final book feels heavier with food and custom and ceremony; catalogs of saints’ relics, clothing and wedding presents ... After the vast and painstaking narrative that has preceded them, the book’s final 75 pages may actually feel rushed, but the speed is artistically appropriate to the abruptness of the matter.
Is it as good as the first two books? Yes. Is it a masterpiece? Yes. Will you grow so attached to the antihero Cromwell (if you weren’t already) that you might just weep at the end? Entirely possible ... Mantel may be unique among modern novelists in her ability to make the past as viscerally compelling as the present. A sensualist, she re-creates an age rife with beauty and dread. The pleasures of a good meal, the flash of cloth-of-gold, the joy of the first crop of plums — the reader is immersed in a more vivid age through Cromwell’s never-miss-anything perspective ... Mantel has a profound understanding of politics and power, and to that end she delivers savage dialogue ... She is an intricate and flawless plotter. She pays astute attention to historical detail ...But her overriding genius is for characterization ... Mantel keeps us with [Cromwell] to the last; you feel that you have to honor his life by attending to his terrifying death.
Those earlier books came alive with an uncanny momentum. So, too, with The Mirror & the Light ... the strain on credulity throughout these novels has been Mantel’s insistence that her readers believe in a Cromwell who’s not only likable but, in a way, noble ... Mantel is exquisite in these final pages ... even the most monstrous characters are given shades of touching empathy (including Henry, here given far more texture than in the earlier two books).
...maddening, fascinating ... At 757 pages, it’s also easily the longest of the three novels, which Mantel seems compelled to fill with more of everything: not just people, history, and policy, but poetry, too. Sometimes her deluge of facts overwhelms ... Even with reams of research, of course, many details of that distant past are dust now, if they were ever tallied at all; what Mantel does, often brilliantly, is put movement and muscle on the bare bones of what’s known ... B+
The one-person perspective gives the books their grip, because Cromwell’s charisma is never allowed to dissipate. At the same time, Mantel has plenty of room for invention ... And yet, Cromwell is like us. At least, it feels that way ... The paradox of Mantel’s historical trilogy is that Cromwell’s anachronisms strengthen his credibility as a character. He has a more highly developed class-consciousness than a man of his era ought to have. But we are willing to suspend disbelief, because his uncanny powers of observation have been so well established that he transcends his world, immersed in it as he is ... Mantel changes her prose style to accommodate her more haunted Cromwell. In the earlier novels, the sentences were blunt and propulsive; in this one, she slows them down, unlaces them. The language is more elegiac, almost mystical, though as precise as ever. It now has to trace the wavering edges of a once well-defined self ... By the end of these three books, we have been with Cromwell as he lived or revisited most of his life, and we haven’t exhausted his mystery. Nor, obviously, has he. It is a testament to Mantel’s demiurgic imagination, her ability to multiply ambiguities, that by the time Cromwell achieves something like self-knowledge, there is more to him than it is possible to know.
[Mantel's] answer to the problem of history and its uncertainties tends to be both more history and more uncertainty. Instead of taking recourse to the surreal as a way to garland history’s inadequacies, her books propose a version of history only to rewrite it again and again without ever veering out of the zone of the plausible. The reception of Mantel’s trilogy hasn’t captured just how little these books feel like conventional novels. You might call them hyperconventional. Though there are few deviations from the real...the texture of Mantel’s style isn’t that of contemporary realism. Often you feel as if you’re reading not a novel but a vast and unstageable play ... the books have an immersive quality. Once you enter them, you are thoroughly within Cromwell’s world ...The Mirror & the Light is longer and looser, more digressive, and more comic than its predecessors. At moments we see Cromwell not merely as an operator but as a connoisseur of poetry and art, reading the verse of Thomas Wyatt and commissioning Hans Holbein to paint him portraits of the kings of England. Was the real Cromwell as contemplative as Mantel’s Cromwell? The question is moot: For her purposes he has to be as she makes him; otherwise he would be unworthy of such a monumental and monomaniacal treatment in fiction ... For another writer to imitate Mantel’s undertaking would be folly. In giving new life to the historical novel, she may also have killed it. Who will come along to reattach the head?
The Mirror & the Light bears the stamp of Mantel’s genius; it’s a richly hued mural of meticulous research, enthralling characters, and expressionistic language. She is our literary Michelangelo. In Cromwell, a striver who will do anything to survive, she lets us glimpse the invention of modernity. Teeming with pageantry, intrigue, sex, and salvation, The Mirror & the Light reflects the looming tensions of every era, between those who hoard power and those who crave it.
The question is, does The Mirror and the Light, so long in the making, match its predecessors – two Booker prize-winners? Yes, it does. Hilary Mantel has achieved something remarkable: she has turned Thomas Cromwell, one of the biggest bastards in English history, maker of the English Reformation, into a living, sympathetic, almost admirable, human being ... It’s not just that she has the gift of bringing the past to life. She does that, with her extraordinary gift of lighting on the details of existence and making them real ... This is brilliant, concrete prose, grounded in the realities but it’s also germane to Cromwell’s own character – the king’s butcher ... But it’s not just the hero who is absolutely convincing. Henry VIII in his terrifying capriciousness, his vulnerability, anxiety, pride and vanity – we feel if we met him, we’d know him ... And what Mantel gets so brilliantly right are the intimate details that counted for everything in a Renaissance court – the gossip, the importance of sheer proximity to the monarch, how rumour passes through ladies in waiting, the way the king’s very chamber pot is treated reverently. She’s also brilliant on food – cod done in saffron, eels cooked with orange, pike with onions – the dinners Cromwell shares with the slippery (real) Imperial envoy make your mouth water. So, to cut to the chase, does it merit another Booker? Yes it does.
... a triumphant conclusion in this huge, detailed and compelling book. Nobody else to my knowledge has so persuasively and delightfully captured the actuality of the period – the rhythm of daily life, the politics, the arguments over religion, the treachery, the danger ... Apart from the pleasure offered by a historical novel’s evocation of the past and giving it a new and vivid life, it does at its best two valuable things: first, it reminds us that the men and women of the time were not the dry figures they may appear to be in academic histories but people of flesh, blood and feeling; second, it reminds us that while history may be read backward, as it were, it is lived forward, the actors ignorant of what is to come. Mantel has an uncanny skill in presenting us with uncertainty, in conveying the precariousness of not only politics, but life itself, in a time of revolutionary change and upheaval ... Her portrait of the dreadful – in both senses of the word – Henry VIII is brilliant and, to my mind, utterly convincing ... I doubt if any of the other fine Tudor novels have ever matched Mantel in the ability to present the reader with such an impression of authenticity . She catches the rhythm of 16th century life and is excellent on food, clothes, buildings, the atmosphere of both the streets and the court. She makes the past a living present, and what more can one ask of a historical novelist? Indeed the three Cromwell novels are so urgent with seen, heard and felt life, that attaching the word 'historical' to her work seems unnecessary ... This trilogy is one of the great works of contemporary English fiction, at once terrifying in its treatment of power politics, and entrancing in its depiction of everyday life.
From the razor-sharp opening paragraph to the dramatic ending 863 pages later, Hilary Mantel’s The Mirror & The Light is superb, right to the last crimson drop ... Mantel’s depiction of royal court intrigue is excellent. She captures the atmosphere of a place choking on itself, where councillors take turns at being humiliated ... The Mirror & the Light is another shrewd character portrait of Cromwell, and it is also a complex, insightful exploration of power, sex, loyalty, friendship, religion, class and statecraft. A single reading hardly seems sufficient to grasp the intricate treasures of Mantel’s novel – but it is enough to know for sure that The Mirror & the Light is a stunning conclusion to one of the great trilogies of our times.
Even while we know that for this or that wife divorce or death is coming, the narrative remains propulsive. Mantel makes it even more so through a present-tense voice that puts the emphasis on the tense, through the clipped, quick rhythms of Cromwell’s inner voice ... The events are doubly known to the reader — from history and the middle novel — but the punchy rhythm still raises the pulse, the final phrases jolting us forward to the urgent present concern of the toll on Cromwell’s soul ... The grace and grip of the descriptive prose may distract from Mantel’s exceptional skill with dialogue, an element of fiction at which many otherwise successful novelists falter ... My single caveat on language is that Mantel’s sentences, in which vocabulary and shape mainly feel exactly calculated, hold one small syntactical irritation. Rather than the traditional use of ‘he’ or the protagonist’s name in male-viewpoint fiction, the trilogy has favoured what will doubtless become known as the Mantel Referent Sub-Clause: ‘He, Cromwell.’ This is clearly an attempt to show that, as the writer has explained, she is ‘behind him, like a camera’, rather than omnisciently narrating his thoughts. And there is a lovely flourish in this book, when the inner voice smugly promotes itself to ‘He, Lord Cromwell’. However, when, at a meal of veal, ‘He, himself, Cromwell, takes up the carving knife’, we may wonder if the trope isn’t affecting the cut of Mantel’s style ... This, though, is a small moan about a great work, which, though categorised by whatever bookshops and libraries survive in digital Britain as historical fiction, has fascinating relationships with other genres ... Mantel writes superlatively about the practice of high politics, then and now ... the length of the book is justified page by page ... one of the key achievements in English literature.
... brings the Thomas Cromwell Trilogy to a spectacular finish ... beautiful prose ... The writing still remains one of the best parts of the book, [Mantel's] prose is gripping and, in this book particularly, thought-provoking. As Cromwell looks into his past deeds with a fresh perspective, so does the reader and that growth makes the whole series feel deeper and more beautiful ... Those familiar with history will know how their stories will end but reading it is excellent and the last 100 or so pages of the book are peerless.
Mantel’s genius as an author is to make the past feel as though it is happening right now. Her books take place in the present tense, and as you read them, history stops seeming inevitable ... Part of what makes the books seem so urgent and immediate is that they take place so firmly within Thomas Cromwell’s head. The bulk of the three books is told in the third person, but every so often, the narration slips easily and elegantly into first or second person, in the way that sometimes in your inner monologue you are yourself, sometimes you narrate your actions as though you are a separate person, and sometimes you address yourself as 'you' ... Expectations are high for this novel. And it lives up to them ... not as taut or as immaculately structured as its predecessors were. It’s a shaggy 754 pages, and it lacks a central goal for Cromwell to devote himself to ... Mantel makes the past feel so immediate that it seems possible Cromwell might actually manage to save himself ... in the meantime, it’s always a joy to spend time with Cromwell. He’s one of those characters who is so implausibly good at everything that you’d hate him if he weren’t so likable — and if he were not so satisfyingly self-interested. Mantel gives you plenty of space to hate Cromwell, which makes it possible to love him, too. And it makes his gradual evolution from principled lawyer to agent of the despotic state feel all the grander and more Shakespearean ... Throughout, Mantel’s prose is rich and vivid. She’s famous for her archival work, which she uses to ground her novels in the historical truth of the past, and it shows itself here in the vividness of Cromwell’s world...The result is immersive: You can lose yourself in these sentences.
Never, surely, has a greater novel deserved such a fanfaring blaze of publicity. ... Chronological events might make it difficult for a novelist, as opposed to an historian, to structure and shape the final years. Mantel does so with her familiar literary dramatist's gift ... Masterly as always are the meetings with the slippery king, inside whose head as divine regent we are briefly allowed to enter ... There are passages of lyrical reflection in between all the doing and being done by: I know of no more perfect writing in a novel than the paragraphs on reflection in twilight which begin 'Don't look back, he had told the king' (pages 249-251) ... Yes, reader, I shed a tear. And it's so typical of this writer's imaginative precision that even the epigraph, 'author's note' on the aftermath and acnowledgments are utterly original. Beautifully produced and proofread (I spotted only one typo), the hardback may be hard to hold but it's a physical pleasure to read.
Mantel has redefined the work of historical fiction, pushing beyond the boundaries of the genre, getting closer to what Henry James called 'the old consciousness' than perhaps any writer before her ... It’s all here, everything that made the last two books exceptional. Mantel does not keep us waiting ... There is big history here: the Reformation, threat of war, the shifting currents of international diplomacy. We are in strange territory, an era that can feel very foreign, when men are burned slowly with green timber for their views on infant baptism and the King of England believes witchcraft mars his potency. But what is not strange—what is achingly familiar and acutely relevant—is the way Mantel meticulously unfolds to us the nature of the human heart, all the old unchanging lusts, avarices, jealousies, hatreds and loves, the desire to live, the fear of death ... Hilary Mantel knows, even if Henry James didn’t: The human heart hasn’t changed that much. They raged as we rage. They loved as we love. And that’s why, when she puts Cromwell in the Tower, alone, thinking on his intricate, unique life as it ticks down swiftly from days to hours, he cries. Of course he does. As, almost half a millennium later, this reader cries with him
Much has been made of the idiosyncrasy of Mantel’s treatment of Cromwell in the earlier novels, her brilliantly contrary interpretation of a man often regarded as a conscienceless instrument of tyranny. But the truth is that Mantel has never simply given Cromwell a moral free pass ... This makes him deeply sympathetic to a modern secular readership. But it also makes him an uncomfortable hero and leaves us wondering whether his confidence that martyrdom is always egotistical theatre locks us in a smaller world than we might otherwise inhabit ... readers of the earlier books will not be disappointed. This is a worthy conclusion to what is undoubtedly one of the great historical fictions of the age, sustaining clarity, tension and depth with a rare consistency.
... beautifully written ... isn’t perfect. It’s too long (and that’s with small type; the British edition is 912 pages), and the middle section is too slow. One can credit the widespread speculation that Mantel was reluctant to bring about her ingenious protagonist’s end ... But the book makes for compulsive reading; if it doesn’t win its author her third Booker Prize, there’s no justice. Most of its historical interpretations are right on; Mantel nails the characters of Norfolk and Sir Thomas More ... The title is apt: There are mirrors of many kinds to be found here, and the light breaks through in sometimes unexpected places. The first-person account of Cromwell’s death is an amazing piece of writing. It closes the story of an extraordinary man, occasionally sympathetic but more often not, very much of his own time, but speaking to ours across the centuries.
With so much ground to cover, Mantel tests our patience as never before, in terms of heft and complexity. That she avoids testing us, too, says a lot about her prose, whose present-tense immediacy creates nerve-jangling drama. No matter how smartly Cromwell tries to predict events, he walks in semi-blindness along paths of eggshells, wondering whether the doorway ahead is booby-trapped or the means to salvation ... If this is Mantel’s way of demystifying familiar history, she renders the general mood of paranoid plotting with supple changes of perspective. Cromwell’s quicksilver calculations dominate, but she can inhabit other points of view with disarming speed: on more than one occasion she has to clarify which “he” exactly we are eavesdropping upon...We could read this as clumsy failure of style, or the inevitable consequence of a feudal patriarchy that habitually uses, abuses and kills women ... What impresses is how Mantel tracks the slow disintegration of the alliance through seemingly innocuous silences or praise bestowed on rivals ... For all its longueurs, The Mirror & the Light is a fitting climax to a dazzling trilogy.
... longer and more ponderous than its predecessors. At 784 pages, it doesn’t have the taut energy of the first two books, but then neither does an old man have the taut energy of his youth ... There are moments when it is difficult to tell whether Mantel is reflecting the vaguer state of her hero’s mind, or simply writing baggily ... Although any fan of Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies will miss the presence of Anne Boleyn, the flashing-eyed femme fatale of those novels, The Mirror and the Light ends with such a beautiful scene—such a gorgeous death—that the final page of this trilogy closes on a note of satisfaction.
It is an expansive narrative ... The relationship between the reader and Cromwell shifts uncomfortably in this third novel ... we are finally positioned just a step or two ahead, able to see what is coming when he cannot. He is still observant and thoughtful, but Mantel skilfully directs the reader’s attention to the small details that he is now starting to overlook, the tones and inflections that he is failing to explore ... Thomas Cromwell may have been able to envision a better age to come. A reader of this bruising, brilliant sequence of novels might now be a little more sceptical. The arc of the moral universe is long in Mantel’s trilogy, but it bends more towards irony than justice.
Read page by page—that is to say, taking the measure of the book by the quality of the prose—it is another masterpiece, a worthy successor to its forebears. There are some reasons, however, to think that the rumors were right—that the death of Cromwell presented a challenge for Mantel. Of the novel’s 754 pages, there is not a hint of trouble for Cromwell until around the 600th, and the crisis leading to his death does not break until about the 700th. This would not be a problem were there some other narrative arc Mantel was intent on tracing. But there isn’t, really ... the narrative is strangely mushy. These structural problems reveal a deeper weakness ... Mantel’s Cromwell is smarter, more pragmatic, and more cunning than all the fanatics, fop-headed aristocrats, and would-be Machiavels that he runs up against. It is not credible that he would not see the crisis that leads to his downfall coming and adapt to it pragmatically ... Absent any sense of his religious conviction, all that’s left as an explanation for these decisions is hubris and temporary stupidity ... The result is a contradiction between the plot and the main character that not even some of the most brilliant modern prose can resolve ... It’s a sad diminishment for a character whose vitality used to leap off every page.
Perhaps no other novel better captures the malleability of truth than The Mirror and the Light ... it is this novel’s closing sequence that forms the trilogy’s most stunning achievement, as the full force of the state machinery Thomas has engineered is brought to bear against him ... It is testament to Mantel’s powers that Cromwell, who, we are reminded, has killed (directly and indirectly) many innocent people, has become something of a sympathetic character ... Cromwell emerges like one of the spirits in the mystical visions he is prone to (accounts of which provide some of the novel’s most beautiful and haunting passages). This perhaps makes it all sound rather serious, which it is, but Mantel can be very funny too and a wry humour simmers throughout ... For all its virtues, though, The Mirror and the Light is a notably flawed novel, inferior to its predecessors ... At almost nine hundred pages, it labours under the weight of its material ... It is marred in places by a dependence on exposition (often masked, rather awkwardly, as interior monologue), and there is a feeling that things are happening simply because they can, rather than because they are essential. Here at last boredom begins to creep into the trilogy. That the novel largely eschews lyricism also contributes to the sense of fatigue ... What Mantel does with point of view across the series is a monument to the novel form and its crowning innovation, free indirect style. But the narrative perspective has become almost too close to Cromwell in this final instalment, and the effacement of the intervening authorial voice too complete ... Still...Mantel’s ability to make [Cromwell's] end as gripping and moving as anything in 21st-century literature is astounding. The Mirror and the Light is a commendable and imperfect novel that saves its best for last.
Told from an unusually close third-person perspective, The Mirror & the Light is lushly written, suspenseful even though you might know its outcome and has occasions of unexpected wry wit. This is the kind of storytelling that so completely transports you, you look up from a chapter not quite knowing where you are. Mantel has, quite simply, redefined historical fiction with this trilogy. Cromwell may be gone, but long live Hilary Mantel.
... [a] magnificent conclusion ... there is joy here...both in the lavish descriptions of Tudor England, and in those perfectly weighted sentences. No-one writes quite like Mantel. Her words thrust us deep into the heart of Henry’s febrile court ... Ambitious, compassionate, clear-eyed yet emotional, passionate and pragmatic, The Mirror & The Light lays down a marker for historical fiction that will set the standard for generations to come.
It is the job of a writer of historical fiction to put the reader in ‘the moment’, even if the moment is 500 years ago. So says Hilary Mantel, who does exactly that ... There are passages in the book that brilliantly bring alive Tudor England — its magnificent courts, costumes, jousts and pomp along with the back alleys and the underbelly of London. There are vivid descriptions of England’s sounds, sights and smells and a particularly amusing account of Hans Holbein agonising over how to paint the now bloated and far-from-attractive Henry VIII in a flattering light ... There is all the high-intensity drama and action one would expect from Mantel. But once the business of executions, seductions, marriages and treason is over, somewhere around the halfway point in the book, the narrative starts to sag. The accounts increasingly take on a chronicle-like quality, fabulous for a history buff, but not so much for someone who wants a fast-paced Tudor thriller like Wolf Hall and Bring up the Bodies ... doesn’t somehow build up to a nail-biting climax. There is too much meandering for a lay reader whose arms have begun to ache from the weight of the book. And alas, attention slips from Thomas Cromwell’s unfolding saga to how many more pages there are left to read.
... [an] incandescent masterpiece ... What seems, at first glance, just a virtuoso English historical novel, slowly and unexpectedly acquires a depth that goes to the core of human existence. For all its lightly expressed seriousness, the novel is sheer fun. It has swashbuckling and incredibly witty interchange that sustain you page after page ... A whole world comes alive with almost cinematic precision. But Mantel carries her learning lightly, and the rich historical texture, the precisely honed descriptions never weigh down the drama. Her skill is precisely to turn historical detail into compelling human drama. The novel is rich in detail. One of the novel’s extraordinary qualities is that no detail seems superfluous ... Mantel slowly peels the layers of each of the characters and they acquire an inner depth that takes this novel to new heights. Not a single character, male or female, master or servant, or even ones who are mere cameos, are caricatures ... one of the most dramatically evocative, descriptively pitch-perfect, and humanly profound novels ever written.
The Thomas Cromwell that Ms. Mantel creates is both shockingly modern and bracingly alive ... When you read it, keep your focus and pay attention. The cast of characters is large and the shifting relationships are complicated. The dialogue is crisp and quick and each page is packed with meaning. There are many players—at court, in the countryside, and across the channel — and many plots. At the center is Thomas Cromwell, pragmatic, insightful, ambitious. The path he follows, first with Wolsey and then with Henry, is a dangerous one. As powerful as he manages to become, he is unable to hold back the tide of events that swallows up his plans, his aspirations and, ultimately, his life.
The Mirror and the Light has all the dark witty glitter of the earlier volumes in the trilogy ... The Mirror and the Light continue the long, diffuse revenge plot that unifies the first two volumes of the trilogy ... Underlying The Mirror and the Light is a buried and ultimately frustrated sequel to this plot ... Scenes and themes in The Mirror and the Light are closely and cleverly interwoven ... Sometimes the historical ironies are a little too neatly done ... More often, oblique parallels between episodes serve to turn the massive historical mess of these years into an artful but defiantly asymmetrical structure ... The scenes in which Cromwell attempts to persuade independently minded women to do what the king wants are the best in the book (the episode with Wolsey’s daughter is one of the most vividly drawn of these). They enable Mantel’s Cromwell to employ his distinctive form of charm with menaces, while her female characters (in particular the magnificently stubborn Princess Mary) remain self-destructively defiant ... Although this final volume may overwhelm with its bulk, it will not disappoint ... the Cromwell novels may finally seem just a little too keen on talking to their age to become permanent classics ... Jocular trans-temporal anachronisms, which sometimes make Cromwell sound like a contemporary person teleported into the 1530s, can also make these novels seem a little too eager to please ... But Cromwell’s ability to melt through time is vital to Mantel’s historical method ... A successful historical novel has to make the past make sense now, and a good way to do that is to have a hero who is some sort of time traveller. And giving the odd wink of contemporaneity to one’s audience as one travels can also help ... it is possible that in fifty years’ time the Cromwell trilogy will seem, like its multiple spin-offs in other media, to belong to a distinctively early-21st-century heritage fiction, which seeks to make the past simultaneously hateful and beautiful, but without quite engaging with the uncomfortably close relationship between its beauty and its horror.
Cromwell lives in a full-blown, bloody, action-packed age. He is gutsy and brave; he rises to every occasion; he accepts risk. Mantel’s Cromwell belongs at the center of power ... The Mirror and the Light is majestic in its scope and sympathy, especially in its last 60 heartbreaking pages ... Mantel arranges heart-thudding, you-are-there details.
Mantel is a distinctive, assured teller, with a clear sense of what she wants to do and what she will avoid. In a popular culture of pace and action, Mantel instead offers depth and texture, nuance and immersion ... Mantel is not a writer with a marketer’s focus; she is one with immense intelligence and an attention to (and memory for) detail in a hugely crowded canvas—and those are, indeed, the principal strengths of Cromwell as she has created him. Mantel’s Cromwell is still rather perfect, as he was in the earlier books. He not only knows everything about everything and everyone, he is also the quickest in the room to react and hold Henry upright when the King takes ill ... Mantel is exceptionally skilled at letting plot arcs emerge gradually, as from the shadows of a palace chamber away from the fire ... The resolution here is beautifully unfolded ... Throughout, in fact, there is that feeling of a deeply skilled author working around and with the challenges of her narrative framework ... The novel here becomes an exercise in giving the reader a full-to-bursting sense of Cromwell’s world. It is done without any sense of ostentation, of showing off research ... The writing is acute, the observations clinical ... Vivid people have been created here: subtle, complex, fearful, greedy, treacherous, foolish, loyal—human.
Readers may be put off by the denseness of the book’s prose, but that’s its power: the details of living in a far-past time surround and enrich the narrative ... Mantel has no equal in historical fiction at setting a scene, telling a compelling story, and delineating vibrant characters. Libraries won’t be able to keep this book on the shelves.
The longed-for final volume in Mantel’s magnificent trilogy is...a stupendously knowledgeable, empathic, witty, harrowing, and provocative novel of power and its distortions ... 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.
The narrative voice is as supple and insinuating as ever, but the tone is more contemplative, 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) ... 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 ... A triumph.
... magisterial ... Mantel's craft shines at the sentence level and in a deep exploration of her themes ... The series' first two books won the Booker Prize—the third, rich with memory and metaphor—may be even better.