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  • The Mirror and the Light

  • The Wolf Hall Trilogy, Book 3
  • By: Hilary Mantel
  • Narrated by: Ben Miles
  • Length: 38 hrs and 11 mins
  • 4.8 out of 5 stars (3,186 ratings)

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The Mirror and the Light

By: Hilary Mantel
Narrated by: Ben Miles
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Summary

Shortlisted for the Women's Prize for Fiction 2020

Longlisted for the Booker Prize 2020

The long-awaited sequel to Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, the stunning conclusion to Hilary Mantel’s Man Booker Prize-winning Thomas Cromwell trilogy. 

‘If you cannot speak truth at a beheading, when can you speak it?’ 

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. 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 and 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.

©2020 Hilary Mantel (P)2020 W. F. Howes Ltd

Critic reviews

“You’ll frequently hit the rewind button to fully appreciate the many, many perfect passages.” (Irish Times)

“Actor Ben Miles played Cromwell in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s adaptations of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, making him the perfect choice to narrate the remarkable final instalment in the Man Booker Prize-winning trilogy.” (Vogue)

What listeners say about The Mirror and the Light

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Exceptional Final Volume of the Wolf Hall Trilogy

I would strongly recommend that you listen to the first two volumes in the trilogy - Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies - before listening to The Mirror and the Light. Otherwise, many of the allusions and references in the book will be lost on you. You need to follow the story right from the beginning in order to fully appreciate the plot and the characters in this final volume.

Disregard everything that other reviewers are saying about the narrator giving a poor performance. Hilary Mantel chose Ben Miles specifically to read the audiobook; and, if all you critics in the comments section would take the time to listen to the interview with the author at the end of The Mirror and the Light, you will see that Mantel praises Miles effusively for the voices he does for each character. She even goes so far as to say that Ben Miles' voice for Cromwell is the voice she hears in her head when thinking about how Cromwell would have spoken. Thomas Cromwell was from Putney and was the son of a blacksmith, so it's natural that he would have spoken with a more 'working class' accent. The narrators for the previous two volumes in the trilogy, Simon Slater and Simon Vance, make Cromwell sound like he was an aristocratic courtier. I have listened to the whole of The Mirror and the Light and can say without hesitation that Ben Miles puts his heart and soul into the narration and really makes the different characters come alive. I have listened to approximately 4 hours per day of this book since it was released on Audible and have only just finished it this morning. This makes me suspect that the people writing hundreds of negative reviews have not bothered to finish the book, but rather are complaining about the narration after only a couple of hours of listening time. Have some patience with Ben Miles' narration and I assure you that you will come to really enjoy the voices he does for each character as you get further into the book's plot.

The book itself is absolutely exceptional. The plot is very tense and gripping, and you are left on the edge of your seat waiting to see exactly when and how Cromwell will fall from grace and be parted with his head. The prose is beautiful and evocative, with many paragraphs reading more like poetry. I would say that compared to the previous two volumes, this volume is more philosophical and elegiac in tone. There's less saucy humour than in Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, and it spends more time wrestling with deep issues like the inevitability of death, the complexities of morality, faith, our fallibility when it comes to knowing ourselves and knowing others, etc. The ending is obviously very sad. If it's any consolation, Thomas Howard and the evil Bishop Gardiner were both imprisoned in the tower not long after Cromwell was beheaded. There are also historical documents which suggest that Henry VIII came to deeply regret Cromwell's execution, and, indeed, his realm was not well managed for the remainder of his reign. I really enjoyed Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, but I would say that The Mirror and the Light is the best volume of the trilogy. Mantel really gives it her all, and it left a deep impression on me.

Anyway, this is not a short book, so be prepared for a considerable time investment. But the book will repay your efforts and then some.


126 people found this helpful

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The narrator is fine

I was concerned when purchasing this due to the poor reviews of the narrator, however I have not had a problem with him. While he is not as good as Simon Slater (narrator of Wolf Hall), I would argue that he is an improvement from his predecessor Simon Vance (Bring up the Bodies), who would default to a monotone when he couldn't keep up with some of the longer sentences. Ben Miles injects good expression into his narration which makes for a much easier listen for a book so long.

The main problem these reviewers have appears to be Cromwell's voice, which is not 'posh' enough. I agree the accents are not always perfect, but I personally find Cromwell's 'rougher' voice enhances the story by serving as a constant reminder of his low background and what the courtiers will be thinking of him (something easy to forget when you're in the man's eloquent head). In some cases I honestly think these reviews come off as slightly prejudiced, which is disappointing to see.

Given audibles policy on returns, I would encourage those considering this audiobook to give it a go, and judge for yourself whether the narration works for you.

109 people found this helpful

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Wrong narrator

How to ruin a great book. This guy has no understanding of how to read this book. The previous narrators had a subtlety and skill, this narrator makes a mockery of the book. Incredibly disappointing, after eagerly looking forward to it. I'm returning my copy and hoping at some stage they re-think their decision. Can I encourage you to do the same?

102 people found this helpful

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The Narration is Fine - Ignore the Naysayers!

I'm about a quarter of the way into the book so am not in a position to give a definitive review. However, it has garnered almost universal praise and from what I've listened to thus far it is easy to see why. What has prompted me to post this review is the surprising number of listeners who have been disappointed with the narration ("awful", "terrible", "appalling", etc). This genuinely perplexes me as I think Ben Miles does an excellent job. He was also chosen for the job by Mantel herself. He has played Cromwell in the RSC production of "Wolf Hall" and "Bring Up the Bodies" and so understands the character inside out. Mantel, in a statement issued by Macmillan Audio in January, said: "“His insights from the rehearsal room helped shape the story. He is familiar with how all the characters grow, from first page to last. His voice is as close as can be to the voice that’s in my head as I write.” [Edit: 29/3/20 - I finished the book yesterday. Absolutely brilliant from start to finish. Thank you Hilary Mantel and thank you Ben Miles for the outstanding narration.]

67 people found this helpful

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Ruined by narration again

Disappointed by narrator again. The trilogy is a masterpiece but why so little attention given to narration after wolf Hall

64 people found this helpful

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Story brilliant - Narration dreadful!

Eagerly anticipated but bitterly disappointed. The poor narration lacks characterisation and empathy with the the long awaited and usual brilliant Mantel storytelling.

51 people found this helpful

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Awful narrator

The narrator reads this with about as much conviction as he reads a shopping list. From the get go, a sombre scene of Anne Boleyn's body being lifted away with all the horror, tragedy and ramifications is almost momotone. Awful accents and characterisations. I can't listen to it. I will be returning it.

47 people found this helpful

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Ruined by narration style

I don’t know if the narrator was given a direction to follow but it has made the audiobook unlistenable. Wish 4thEstateBooks had used either the first or second narrator for #TheMirrorandtheLight The new one sounds like a bad actor from Eastenders when speaking as Cromwell. Harsh critique I know but it is quite a change from the approach in the first two audiobooks. Also names of characters pronounced differently from the previous books, which is a bit jarring as well. Have been waiting months for this release and am desperately disappointed. Have abandoned it and opting to read the hardback instead.

47 people found this helpful

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  • KT
  • 07-03-20

Appalling Narration

The narrator is terrible, I’m not sure I can finish this. There’s no narrative continuity between this and the previous 2 books. Names are pronounced differently. It’s a real shame as I’ve waited a long time for this. I’m looking at my options to return this. Really disappointing.

38 people found this helpful

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Writing of perfection, reading disappointing

Like many people, I've waited with baited breath for this book. Now, listening to this reader, I don't know whether I can finish it. So hard to tell who's speaking. Why don't people realise the reader can make or break the book. It's a criminal offence to trample over her words like this. Sometimes Cromwell sounds like (as someone else has said) a thug from East Enders and sometimes he has a slight Northern accent. I think Ben Miles is listening to his own voice, and therefore he blocks Hilary Mantel's voice. Bitterly disappointing.

35 people found this helpful

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  • Bjerkana
  • 14-04-20

Fabulous trip back in time

I began this book, having already listened to the previous two books in the trilogy, just at the beginning of the Coronavirus "social distancing" and it has been my companion on all my "exercise walks" for the past couple of weeks. What a marvellous book! I have been so absorbed in Cromwell's story that I felt I had lost a friend by the time I finished it and cried walking along the path at the end. The final interview between Hilary Mantel and the Narrator, Ben Miles, whose outstanding telling of this story took me right into the Court of Henry VII, added another dimension. Ben has truly inhabited the character of Cromwell and feels more familiar than my own family at this time of physical separation. I can't recommend this book highly enough - but if you haven't already heard the first two books in the trilogy I strongly suggest visiting them first. That way you live Cromwell's entire life through the series. This is a series I'm very sad to have concluded.

3 people found this helpful

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  • Sylla
  • 31-03-20

A perfect match between narrator and narrative

What else is there to say but that this is the most accomplished audio book I ever listened to? Mantel gives us an extraordinarily inspired and inspiring conclusion to the Wolf Hall trilogy with this book. And here her creation is served by the narrator with a level of authenticity and artistry that left me unable to imagine that it was not Cromwell himself speaking to me for the many hours of this book. It felt incredibly intimate and as a polyglot myself, I appreciated the accuracy of the Italian or French at times spoken with just the right English accent. Simply phenomenal.

3 people found this helpful

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  • David
  • 10-03-20

Excellent writing, perfect casting

Easily the best performance of all the books. Ben Miles injects Cromwell with the kind of quietness, ruthlessness, yet down to earth humour you would expect of someone of Cromwell's heritage and journey in life. Miles has played Cromwell excellently on stage with the RSC, but in this performance he actually channels Mark Rylance's incredible portrayal of Cromwell in the series Wolf Hall in my opinion, and does an excellent job. So ignore those complaining about accents and the like, and listen for yourself.

The book itself, as you would expect, is excellent. The writing is exquisite and the conclusion to this trilogy is everything you would expect and more.

3 people found this helpful

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  • Jelena
  • 15-07-20

Great imersion into the torn court of Henry VIII.

Masterfully narrated; the pace and recognizable character voices add a special charm. This is a slow burn that one wishes will go on and on.

2 people found this helpful

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  • Matt Mole
  • 25-06-20

The best of the trilogy

I found this to be the best of the trilogy. Ben Miles is an excellent narrator and makes great use of the text. I still don’t enjoy the author’s style of writing probably because the constant use of memories and flashbacks stalls the progress of the story. That being said the historical research and characterization are faultless.

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  • Utilisateur anonyme
  • 06-04-20

Excellent on all accounts

I was put off by the comments about the narration. But I bought the audiobook and have had no problems at all with the narrator. I really cannot see what the issues are. Ben Miles does a great job. In fact I prefer this narrator to the last one. Highly recommended.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Anne Sanchez
  • 21-11-22

Best Volume of the Trilogy

That was my favorite reading of the whole trilogy, maybe because as the reader you become accustomed to all the characters. Also I found it was Ben Miles' best performance as narrator. Quite a feat actually !

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  • Colleen O'Brien
  • 18-09-22

Simply stunning tour de force.

This book captured me from the very beginning, which was hard to read and to hear and simply went from strength to strength, totally engrossing the listener in the history and colour of the story, with characters stepping out of the page and enveloping one into the story and the period. A simply stunning book.

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  • John
  • 30-07-22

Great book! great reader! however

the first chapter is 6 hours long, it’s kind of hard to find a stopping point, it would be great if you could break up later versions, or indeed this version, into more manageable (i.e before bed) chunks so one can find their place easier.

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  • HEATHER DAY
  • 17-04-22

Magnificent!

What a marvellous audiobook! Ben Miles is a superb reader, he brings Cromwell to life and all the other voices in the book too. Hilary Mantel’s writing is so beautiful read aloud. I love her trilogy about Thomas Cromwell and didn’t want it to end.