The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel 2020
Mantel wrote the first two books of the Wolf Hall trilogy in consecutive years, and both volumes won the coveted Man Booker Prize; but it took her ten years to publish the final volume, and I think I have some sense of why.
While the first two volumes run to about 500 pages each and tell in detail about the rise and success of Thomas Cromwell, this final volume runs about 50% longer and tells of his downfall and ultimate beheading. No spoiler alert needed here since I trust since that these events of the mid-16th C are widely known already. Certainly, Henry VIII’s six wives are familiar to most though Cromwell’s rise from a blacksmith’s oft-beaten son in Putney to the Earl of Essex, the Vice-Regent of the Church, the Lord of the Privy Seal, a member of the Order of the Garter, and on and on is not widely known. Enter Mantel who has assured that Cromwell will be remembered as a major historical figure, fascinating in his craft of diplomacy and political maneuvering and an important factor in the rise of England as a world power. Her ability to weave her speculations on the thoughts and words of Henry VIII, Cromwell, and dozens of other characters with actual historical events is remarkable and carries the reader through several decades as if they were moments.
I loved all three of these books, though the ending of this one left me sad and wanting more of Cromwell. Alas, his fall was not a surprise though the timing and manner were. Read these books for the joy of fiction, how it transports one to a different world and immerses one in that setting. Having finished the book last night, I found myself missing that world this morning and wanting more—a rare feat for 1800 pages of fiction!