The Mirror and the Light - Hilary Mantel

No one writes history like Hilary Mantel.

"It occurs to him that when he is dead, other people will be getting on with their day; it will be dinner time or nearly, there will be a bubbling of pottages, the clatter of ladles, the swift scoop of meats from spit to platter; a thousand dogs will stir from sleep and wag their tails; napkins will be unfurled and twitched over the shoulder, fingers dipped in rosewater, bread broken. And when the crumbs are swept away, the pewter piled for scouring, his body will be broken meat, and the executioner will clean the blade." (from "The Mirror and the Light: Shortlisted for The Women’s Prize for Fiction 2020 (The Wolf Hall Trilogy, Book 3)" by Hilary Mantel)


To be honest, while reading 'The Mirror and the Light' was both rich and rewarding, at times it also felt a bit like a Herculean project I was not equipped to manage: despite being reasonably familiar with Tudor history, there were several moments when I lost hold of the story threads, and continued blind until by chance it seemed I regained the reins ... Quite frankly, if you are not familiar with this period of history you too might find it mind-boggling in parts, but like the other books in this trilogy, if you love historical fiction and the Tudors, this novel is so worth pursuing to the end. There is no denying that Hilary Mantel does overload the reader with historical details, she does diverge (at times, I feel, unnecessarily) but what I love about this wonderful book is you are caught time and time again by its richness - both Mantel's effortless and sublime command of words and language, and the breadth and depth of the historical content. It is quite something, to know from the outset, that I am in the hands of an authority on the subject and an authority of the craft of writing. I admire Hilary Mantel's approach to historical fiction writing; she makes no bones that she will invent and interpret the gaps in history as she imagines them and as serve the story. Reading this book you are aware that it is fictional, but it is made so easy to enter the world of the past; the history is at your fingertips and pulsing through the words. It smells authentic, never more so, than when the tension builds towards the end.


Even though you know Cromwell's fate, even though you know he is flawed, the way in which Mantel writes her protagonist - his inner turmoil, his stoic and loyal nature - you absolutely fall in love with the man - at least, I did.


I wept buckets. In my mind I wanted to do a Christophe. It has to be said no one writes death like Mantel. Unfortunately, I cannot find the quote that I read, and should have marked, in which Mantel compares death to a fight you are unprepared for and cannot fight. Most of the time, I was so caught up in the reading that I forgot to pause and mark salient quotes, but she endures as one of my favourite writers. There were so many moments the writing captured and enraptured me, but here's one quote I did mark - for me it makes that connection between the troubled present and the troubled past, and it speaks of the refuge found in a great book, such as 'The Mirror and the Light':


"All your life you tramp the empty road with the wind at your back. You are hungry and your spirit is perturbed as you journey on into the gloom. But when you get to your destination the doorkeeper knows you. A torch goes before you as you cross the court. Inside there is a fire and a flask of wine, there is a candle and beside the candle your book. You pick it up and find your place is marked. You sit down by the fire, open it, and begin your story. You read on, into the night." (from "The Mirror and the Light: Shortlisted for The Women’s Prize for Fiction 2020 (The Wolf Hall Trilogy, Book 3)" by Hilary Mantel)

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