Saturday, December 13, 2014

"The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher," by Hilary Mantel

In the past my attitude toward the highly and justly esteemed English writer Hilary Mantel’s fiction has been one of respect rather than liking. I found her earlier novels very dark, and I did not share the seemingly universal liking of her historical novels “Wolf Hall” and “Bring Up the Bodies.” (Actually I only dipped into the latter two, and stopped for lack of interest.) But for some reason I decided to read her new collection of short stories, “The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher” (Henry Holt, 2014). Catchy title, right? The stories are dark, yes, although less intensely so than her earlier novels. And occasionally they veer toward cleverness rather than insight. But they are original, revealing, and compelling. And as the inside flap puts it, the stories are “unpredictable, diverse, and sometimes shocking.” Another word used about her work is “sinister” and it is somewhat apt as well. Characters are sometimes sly, eccentric, unknowable, yet curiously believable. In a strange way, a way that causes the reader to shake her head while quickly turning the pages, the stories are quite entertaining. One small thing, among many others that I enjoyed, was Mantel’s occasional allusions to other writers and their work. For example, one line in the story “How Shall I Know You?” is as follows: “I stood debating this with myself, and saying come now, come now, what would Anita Brookner do?” I laughed out loud when I read that line.

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