Friday, December 18, 2020

Hilary Mantel's "The Mirror and the Light": Book Review

Fantastic. It helped for me to have seen, in the interim between Bring Up the Bodies and this final installment of the trilogy, both the televised Wolf Hall adaptation of the first and second books and The Tudors series. Even so, I had to keep flipping to the cast of characters listed in the book’s front to remember who’s who among all the Thomases and Lords of this and Earls of that shire. That being said, Hilary Mantel provides a vivid, convincing and gripping finale to the saga of Thomas Cromwell. The span encompasses the aftermath of Anne Boleyn’s execution up through the pending marriage of King Henry VIII to his fifth wife, young Katharine Howard.

Cromwell engineers the occasional rise of his proteges or the frequent fall of his rivals. However, power struggles as moderate and reformist factions of Protestants clash will place Cromwell under suspicion for his radical Lutheran sympathies. Mantel, using deft renderings of an indirect first-person narration as if burrowed inside her protagonist’s consciousness, delivers a relentless, compelling evocation of a crafty consultant to the Crown who must survive machinations of a religious revolt and a political subversion he has long planted. This voice churns on, sardonic, sharp and ultimately self-consuming, as Cromwell reckons with his fate. The author immerses you into deadly tumult, where intelligence battles against emotion, and idealism against revenge.

Hilary Mantel deserved her third Booker Prize in 2020—she won back-to-back for her first two titles—for her culmination of a decade’s love and labor spent convincingly conjuring up the scenes, smells and sensations of early 16th-century England. Hindsight may well show the award went to a less qualified contender than this harrowing, intricate portrayal of pride and payback. – John L. Murphy

Best Books of 2020 list at Spectrum Culture 12/13/20