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Booker Longlist – The Mirror and the Light – Hilary Mantel

Book Thirteen  – reviewed by panelists Tracy, Susie and Lisa. 

Hilary Mantel was born near Manchester, England and has lived in Botswana and Saudi Arabia 

Synopsis from Booker Prize website:  England, May 1536. Anne Boleyn is dead, decapitated in the space of a heartbeat by a hired French executioner. As her remains are bundled into oblivion, Thomas Cromwell breakfasts with the victors. The blacksmith’s son from Putney emerges from the spring’s bloodbath to continue his climb to power and wealth, while his formidable master, Henry VIII, settles to short-lived happiness with his third queen, Jane Seymour. 

Cromwell is a man with only his wits to rely on; he has no great family to back him, no private army. Despite rebellion at home, traitors plotting abroad and the threat of invasion testing henry’s regime to breaking point, Cromwell’s robust imagination sees a new country in the mirror of the future. But can a nation, or a person, shed the past like a skin? Do the dead continually unbury themselves? What will you do, the Spanish ambassador asks Cromwell, when the king turns on you, as sooner or later he turns on everyone close to him? 

With The Mirror & the Light, Hilary Mantel brings to a triumphant close the trilogy she began with Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies. She traces the final years of Thomas Cromwell, the boy from nowhere who climbs to the heights of power, offering a defining portrait of predator and prey, of a ferocious contest between present and past, between royal will and a common man’s vision: of a modern nation making itself through conflict, passion and courage. 

Tracy’s Thoughts:  I love Tudor England. The craziness of Henry VIII, the court intrigue, the religious crises, the Shakespeare. 

Then Hillary Mantel came along. Knowing that this book would be longlisted- it would be outrageous if it wasn’t- given that the first two won- I listened to Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies. I hated Wolf Hall. BUTB was okay. So I was ready for this one. 

I actually liked this. Maybe I got used to the overwriting of the first two. Maybe I was resigned to Mantel adding in every little detail so that it felt like an undergrad paper trying to impress the professor.  Or maybe I was just relieved that the pompous Cromwell finally bit the dust. (Not a spoiler alert, folks. Really!)

Regardless, this one didn’t suck. I still think her prose is wooden, but she’s getting better. Too bad that’s the last of the trilogy. 

Writing quality: 2.5/5
Originality: 2/5
Character development: 3/4
Plot development: 3/4
Overall enjoyment: 1.5/2
Total: 12/20

Susie’s Thoughts: 

Full disclosure; I’m yet to finish this behemoth! I feel as though I have read enough to formulate an opinion that I’m optimistic will not change. Mantel has created yet another masterpiece. Nobody writes historical fiction quite like her. From the opening line I have found myself experiencing little bursts of excitement at the sheer brilliance of the writing. It’s controversial that the third of a trilogy should be included in any prize list, but the fact that Bring Up the Bodies took the gong shows that this difficulty will not preclude Mantel from winning yet again. I for one would be very happy if this were the end result. 

Writing quality: 5/5
Originality: 5/5
Character development: 4/4
Plot development: 4/4
Overall enjoyment: 2/2
Total: 20/20

Lisa’s Thoughts: 

I’ve been reading this book for a while, and I’m still only about 2/3 of the way through. It has moments of brilliance, such as when you read about how the men of the privy council, especially Cromwell, work to arrange reality around their autocratic ruler in a way that pleases  said ruler, and in a way that minimizes the damage that can do to himself and others. I read these passages and think yes, yes that sounds very familiar. I see how that could happen. Although I’ve been enjoying this book, it is also a slow book, and I’m ready to be done.  And yet — Cromwell has not even fallen from grace yet. I can see it looming ahead of me, but I just haven’t gotten there yet.  I think the book could be about 2/3 as long as it is, with careful editing. I will finish, but I may read another book first, then go back and finish. I don’t think she should win the prize for this one.  

Writing quality: 4 /5
Originality: 4/5
Character development:3 /4
Plot development: 3/4
Overall enjoyment: 1/2
Total: 15/20



  1. Apeirogon 18
  2. Love and Other Thought Experiments 17.5
  3. How Much of These Hills is Gold 16.1
  4. The Mirror and the Light 15.6*
  5. The Shadow King15.5
  6. Shuggie Bain 15.3
  7. Real Life 13.9
  8. This Mournable Body 12.3
  9. Burnt Sugar11.8
  10. Such a Fun Age 11.1
  11. Redhead at the Side of the Road 11
  12. Who They Was 10.6*
  13. The New Wilderness 10.4

*Not all of our reviewers have finished the book

And that is a WRAP folks!  We’ll be back later today with our shortlist predictions.  



3 Comments Post a comment
  1. I usually really enjoy historical fiction but I have to confess I gave up on Wolf Hall not very far in. I just couldn’t get on with the style of writing to the point where it became unreadable for me. I know lots of people love it but not for me! Really interesting to read all your differing thoughts.


    September 14, 2020
    • I had two things going against this … 1. I overdid Tutor’s early on in my reading life … like, obsessively. 2. I just couldn’t ever get it going with Wolf Hall either. And I tried! (3 times)

      Liked by 1 person

      September 14, 2020
      • 3 attempts shows great determination! Every now and then I feel like I should have another go at it but have decided life’s too short 🙂


        September 14, 2020

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