The Mirror and the Light

Review From User :

Aaaand he's back. Thomas Cromwell aka 'Cremuel' aka 'Crumb' aka 'he, Cromwell' aka... 'he'. The upjumped blacksmith's boy, now Master Secretary, is newly elevated to Baron as The Mirror & The Light kicks off, a reward for his part in disposing of Anne Boleyn.

I could go into raptures about Mantel's exceptional prose - here sinewy, there sweeping - or the finely detailed historical research, or her vivid, textured Tudor England setting: as close to time travel as literature gets. But the real triumph of this trilogy is the use of perspective, which reaches its acme in this final instalment.

"He, Cromwell." This is the special sauce, this close 3rd person. It's how we ride around on Cromwell's shoulder, seeing everything from his unique point of view. It is not objective. It's immediate and intimate. It is also, for some readers, a major irritant, but if you have made it to book 3 you're at least used to it by now.

In this final volume we go deeper into Cromwell's psyche than we have ventured before. He's a lot more reflective, not regretful exactly - he's too pragmatic for that - but he's seen things, done things, that prick his conscience and these things dwell in the tenebrous corners of his mind. Spectres of the past. Harbingers of what's to come.

Every now and then we take wing, arise from Cromwell's shoulder and soar: above the barges on the Thames, over the fields of Britain, or the alehouses where sedition foments. Sometimes his thoughts lead us further into the past, to times of heroes, saints or Roman invaders. And always he's exhuming, turning over memories, more recent history: Venice, all slick cobblestones and mist; or Putney on a murky night, a cellar and a knife.

As we loop back to scenes from the earlier books, our view is shifted ever so slightly, casting light in new places, where fresh details glint and catch the eye. Which means The Mirror & The Light isn't merely a continuation of this story, it also enfolds and contains everything that came before, adding richness and complexity to the whole.

At around 900 pages, this is nothing if not comprehensive. There is much minutiae of politics, religious reform, scheming and conspiring, and a huge cast of characters, all of which will no doubt test the patience of some readers. But this is it, fin, no more, and so ardent fans, savour every page of this masterful, shining achievement.


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