Friday 3 April 2020

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The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel  {Reviewed by STELLA} 
Hilary Mantel’s timing couldn’t have been better. Waiting eight years for the final instalment of her Cromwell trilogy has been worth it and it is the perfect lock-down read. (I'm wondering how many people are reading this world-wide at this moment!) So we know about Thomas Cromwell and the machinations of the court. Mantel does not deviate from the history but breathes life into these long-dead players with such vigour, cleverness and expert writing that you will be completely immersed for days, if not weeks. The opens where Bring Up the Bodies left off, with Anne Boleyn’s beheading. Cromwell has rid his prince of the marriage he no longer wanted and is now even further ensconced in the royal’s favour. Yet this is a favour held with great difficulty. Henry is temperamental, fixated on producing a male heir and increasing England’s wealth and influence — alliances and enemies abound, not helped by the rejection of Rome. Thomas Cromwell, now a wealthy and influential man, once a blacksmith's son (as some often remind him) is envied and openly despised by many of the aristocratic families and between these families are both alliance and divisions, petty grievances and bloody back-stabbing. It’s a rich and colourful tapestry which Mantel stitches with perfection. As with Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, the author’s ability to get under the skin of these historical figures enables the reader to walk the halls of the Court, to sense the tension and anticipate the danger that awaits players in an ever-changing game, and to be an observer in Cromwell’s house, heart and mind. As Cromwell rises in esteem with Henry, his jeopardy also increases, and what comes after can only be a fall. There is so much happening in this massive tome (800+ pages) that it is hard to describe all the ins and outs — suffice to say that the pages turn out a larger and greater world than its mere 882 pages. Split into six parts with a very helpful family tree for the royals and a list of characters and their relationships to each other (indispensable — I constantly referred back to this to keep track of everyone), it is easy to navigate your way through the book as it focuses our attention on particular aspects and issues affecting Cromwell’s life. There are also excellent philosophical conjectures on religion, power, and how your past will haunt your future (eg. Cromwell and the Cardinal). It lays open the hypocrisy of the church and the state, and the ability to hold sway and keep influence in a time where a false step, a fickle mood, or doing nothing when more is expected (or just bad luck) may just take your head off. The Mirror and The Light shines brightly and brilliantly. 

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