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The Mirror and the Light

Written by: Hilary Mantel
Narrated by: Ben Miles
Length: 38 hrs and 11 mins
4.5 out of 5 stars (3 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

Shortlisted for the Women's Prize for Fiction 2020.

Listen to 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. 

Read by Ben Miles, who played Thomas Cromwell in the Royal Shakespeare Company adaptation of Wolf Hall and Bring up the Bodies and was personally cast by the author. This edition includes a bonus conversation between Ben Miles and Hilary Mantel. 

'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

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Excellent

I wish I could read the other two books also narrated by the same person

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Does not disappoint

“That's the point of a promise, he thinks. It wouldn't have any value, if you could see what it would cost you when you made it.”

Dear Ms.Mantel,

Did you not promise that there are no such thing as endings and that every ending is a beginning in Bring up the Bodies? And yet you went back on your words even when the decisive ending was every bit poetic. The afterword that in a few minutes - talks about the rest of the Tudor rule with 2 more queens for Henry, a short stint of Mary on the throne and the end of Tudor line with Elizabeth - pales away in comparison to the 38 hours of brilliance.

The book starts and ends with a beheading - a term that in itself is barbaric and in today's time associated with terrorism. But it is seen as a mercy that the victim is thankful for - that the swing of the axe is swift and you die in one blow. The difference - Anne Boleyn held to the last minute, a hope, that Henry will come and stop the beheading while Cromwell knows his king only too well. Did you know this when you started writing this book?

Despite being a dated event, the lead up to it is on the contrary a story of unstoppable ascension. After Anne Boleyn is dead, Cromwell feasts with the victors. The new queen Jane is thankful to Him, Mary(the king's daughter - not princess) looks to him as her only companion and the king Henry finds Him as his most trusted advisor. With unrest against the Christian ideas, people burnt for heresy - Cromwell has to get his hands dirty leaving the side of his beloved king. Soon he is the master secretary and then becomes Earl despite his non-noble blood. And you start fearing for him - about what he says and question his decisions.

Would this book have been of the same relevance, if Cromwell had died in his sleep in the ripe old age of 80? I keep going back to the ghosts that haunt him and the undead. The cardinal's daughter holds him responsible for the death of her father, while his own daughter finds him in the way of her calling. We see the frailty in his human nature - much more than when he lost his daughters in Wolf hall. His people, he has to take care of. He even sheds tears in front of his core team!

He is proud of his work, he is thinking of securing the future for his loyal people and he thinks he has mastered Henry - so much so that he is writing a book on handling a king. Was it pride and a sense of invincibility that was his undoing? Or was it his loyalty that his enemies decided to target?

Cromwell almost intentionally allows rumors to flourish as a means on empowerment. With no other version of Tudor rule, for me this will become the definitive version. I cannot imagine a version in which Cromwell is not acting in the best interest of the kingdom - even if it means against the king.

In your own words
“Sometimes it is years before we can see who are the heroes in an affair and who are the victims.”

When I interacted with you on BBC world for Bring up the bodies, I asked you if your process of writing is like that of Cromwell. And you said it had to be a voice that reads and you plan and write and write till you get it right. For something which has spanned almost 11 years - the results are I must say, exemplary. Take a bow, Ms.Mantel! For the entire series.

This is definitely worth the accolades it will fetch, the awards it will garner and, fingers crossed, even the hat-trick! And to top it all,I wish you that may it just be the beginning.

Cheers!

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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.

2 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.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Vicki Apokis
  • 18-04-20

3rd Booker Prize Winner?

Lengthy but worthy end to the Wolf Hall trilogy. The subtle demise of Thomas Cromwell.

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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.

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  • Anonymous User
  • 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.

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  • John Forge
  • 05-04-20

Wonderful book

This book is beautifully written and superbly read. Ben Wiles gives a sustained performance for nearly 40 hours, consistently rendering the different accents of Thomas, the king, Norfolk and the other main characters. The writing is moving and evocative, in the tradition of a great tragedy. A tour de force for author and reader.

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  • nicola
  • 27-03-20

Rambling and verbose

Don’t waste a credit on this. I think the author wrote it purely to show off her prose with no thought to plot purpose or actual point. It’s full of trite ramblings and poetic circles which go nowhere. Time to give up Hilary. Ben Miles is excellent

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  • Marti
  • 21-03-20

Brilliant Narration of an amazing book

38 hours of brilliance, both the narration and the skilled story telling.
History brought to life by clever research.

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  • BiB
  • 19-03-20

The narration is fine

The book of course is amazing. The narration a little less. If I had not heard the two first books I believe I would not have remarked on the narrator. But he is not bad, not bad at all. He is not like the Simonses Vance and Slater, but good in his own way

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  • John Dawson
  • 05-03-20

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?

72 people found this helpful

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  • Ellen Coleman
  • 07-03-20

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.

61 people found this helpful

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  • Gracie50
  • 06-03-20

Ruined by narration again

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

55 people found this helpful

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  • Maxwell Justus Mitchell
  • 11-03-20

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 may 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 of the 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 I 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 I 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, morality, faith, our fallibility when it comes to knowing ourselves and to 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. I would be amazed if she doesn't win the Booker Prize for this (which would make her the only person in history to win the award three times).

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.


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  • Anonymous User
  • 06-03-20

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.

44 people found this helpful

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 06-03-20

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.

41 people found this helpful

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  • lena
  • 05-03-20

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.

38 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.

32 people found this helpful

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  • Jennifer Coldwell
  • 06-03-20

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.

31 people found this helpful

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 07-03-20

A very disappointing audible production, after the first two books

In the first two adaptations, although narrated by different narrators, they both captured the Cromwell I truly believe Hilary Mantel wanted to portray. A difficult task but well executed. They both portrayed the essence of her understanding of this complex character. Having listened to the audio of her third book, unfortunately I was immediately turned off by Cromwells sudden change of character. The characters we had come to know, suddenly became unrecognisable and totally alien. This may have been part of the plot, but it’s doubtable. Her literary skills are
so credible that her belief in her characters was perfect. To hear a totally different character ( all be it an actor) speaking , took Cromwell’s essence away. He became a person we no longer identified with, or believed in. A disappointing narration which left the listener confused and not what I suspect Ms Mantel intended in her development of his final demise.





24 people found this helpful

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  • Barbara
  • 06-03-20

Terrible narration destroys Mantel's Cromwell

Terrible narration. Amatuer hour radio drama stuff. Completely misses the thoughtful and analytical mind of Cromwell that Mantel has constructed. Makes most of the characters sound like strutting cockerals, instead of the political conivers that they were.
I'm so disappointed. Please, Audible, don't let yourself down by not getting one of the earlier narrators to re'-record this epic tome to complete this epic trilogy. Such a missed opportunity to capture new customers looking for an accessible way to read a long but worthwhile book.

10 people found this helpful

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  • P
  • 17-04-20

BRILLIANT NOVEL AND NARRATOR

I thorough enjoyed both the richness of Hilary Mantel's prose along with the wisdom of Ben Miles' narration. He manages to very subtly evoke a variety of voices and perspectives without ever sounding affected.
I was completely astonished to read some people's criticism of his performance. It was both authentic and insightful.
When listening to this work, one feels to be in the hands of two remarkable artists.

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  • SarahOz
  • 08-03-20

Disappointing narration for a truly wonderful novel.

What happened to Simon Slater or Simon Vance? The narrator smacks his lips and needs more water when speaking as the dry thickness of his pronunciation makes it difficult to understand. The character voices are not as differentiated as in the last two books and it makes it harder to understand who is speaking. Cromwell sounds at times like an old ocker Aussie who has just finished his shift down the mines and is enjoying a tinny at the pub.

2 people found this helpful

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  • Anonymous User
  • 27-04-20

Magnificent in every way.

I loved the voice that Ben Miles gives to Cromwell. Acknowledging his blacksmith origins in Putney yet rising so far beyond them. A great mind, a complex man, a glittering and brutal world.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Anonymous User
  • 19-04-20

Excellent writing, equaled by excellent narration

Lengthy but compelling. Excellent writing enhanced by superb narration by Ben Miles. Thanks- thoroughly enjoyed it. Clinton Anderson

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  • Eric
  • 25-03-20

Great reading and writing combine to enrapture

It almost goes without saying that the writing is rich, the story compelling and the author peerless in this genre.
But concerned that quite a few reviewers here dislike the reading.

Of course it is a matter of personal taste. But for me the combination of the reading and writing is enrapturing. I think in a book with so much dialogue driving the story it is important for the reader to attempt to render the different characters in a clear and believable way leaving the listener is no doubt as to who is speaking. Ben Miles achieves this and more for me. You can always buy the book and return it if the reading does not work for you.

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  • Michele
  • 21-03-20

Brilliant performance by Ben Miles and a gripping plot - even though we all know how it ends!

This is an epic tale of history told in such a personal way that the story and characters unfold like a well crafted work of fiction. I really enjoyed the narration and was interested to discover that Hilary Mantel imagines her characters in conversation as she writes. Probably why this works so well as an audio book.
It you can invest the time it is worth listening to the unabridged versions of Part 1 & 2 before The Mirror & the Light. HM spent 15 years researching and writing this series.

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  • Anonymous User
  • 20-03-20

A Wonderful Sequel to the Cromwell Trilogy

I approached this book with caution - after reading the scathing reviews of Ben Miles performance - but I loved it!
Ben does a wonderful job, and the novel itself is an utter delight.
It took me a few chapters to distinguish between voices for the different characters, but suddenly it clicked - and I was away. I enjoyed this enormously.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 23-05-20

The Mirror and the Light

An amazing complex character tells the final story of his life with fabulous narration from Ben Miles. Thoroughly recommended

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  • Anonymous User
  • 23-05-20

Needs to be re-recorded to fit in the trilogy

If you were a fan of the previous two installments on Audible, you'd better wait for a new recording of this book. If you choose to go ahead, prepare to cringe through a new slack-jawed voice for Mr Cromwell, and a narrator who persists in calling Risley "Writhesly" despite the text insisting otherwise. The lack of continuity with the previous two installments is seriously disappointing.