Archive for May, 2020

The Mirror and the Light

Thursday, May 21st, 2020

By Hilary Mantel

The Short Take: I loved Mantel’s first two historical fiction books about Thomas Cromwell (Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies) but had a much harder time enjoying this one.


As usual, Mantel’s prose impressed, her portrayal of Tudor England made it come alive (I particularly liked the meal descriptions), and Thomas Cromwell continued to be a complex, fascinating character. However, I knew what lay in store for Henry VIII’s most valued councilor and that knowledge had me pushing this book aside.

The lowly born Cromwell was hated by the English nobility. His king, who he served loyally, was capricious and often in pain due to a wounded let that wouldn’t heal. Surrounded by enemies, both domestic and abroad, he worked tirelessly for his country yet was often suspected of collusion with other realms. To counter this he maintained a wide network of spies and was careful with every word and move.

Mantel’s Cromwell seemed to anticipate his end, even as he rose in power and position. He often reflected on his youth and wondered what kind of man he was–like his father or more just.

He cared deeply about the religious reformations that then swept through Europe. Often accused of being a Lutheran, he indeed had secret sympathies in the direction. That commitment to his faith lay behind much of his activities.

There’s a lot to this man, but this volume felt overly long. The “action” seemed in the background while Cromwell’s reflections took center stage. Don’t get me wrong–I enjoyed the book (except the inevitable end), but it could have been a tighter read.

A Little Plot:

With Anne Boleyn newly executed, Thomas Cromwell feared Henry VIII would do the same to his daughter, Mary, who might be involved in plots against him. Cromwell’s protection of the girl alarmed some, irritated others, and put him in danger. But he persisted.

For more about Hilary Mantel and her books, click here.


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May 2020