Magazine May 18, 2020, Issue

The Contradiction at the Heart of Hilary Mantel’s The Mirror and the Light

A display of The Mirror and the Light at a bookstore in London, England, March 4, 2020 (Hannah McKay/Reuters)
The Mirror and the Light, by Hilary Mantel (Henry Holt, 784 pp., $30)

Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall was a high-cultural phenomenon. The novel, published in 2009, retold the story of the downfall of Sir (Saint) Thomas More and the rise of Thomas Cromwell: A Man for All Seasons, but with the good guy and bad guy reversed. In Mantel’s telling, More was a religious fanatic, an embodiment of the deliberate, persecuting medieval darkness, while Cromwell was the new man, an omni-talented, self-made son of a blacksmith whose virtues were above all else moderation and practicality. Written with a brilliant combination of arresting detail and swift movement, the novel won the Man Booker Prize

This article appears as “A Man without a Core” in the May 18, 2020, print edition of National Review.

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