I don’t really know how this happened, but it’s one of those scenarios where I absolutely feel like the last to know. How – how – did I miss Hilary Mantel?? And I don’t mean missed as in, “Oh, I’ve been wanting to read her for years, but just haven’t gotten round to it,” I mean missed as in, “Who?”
Sometimes it’s almost as though there really are literary gods influencing things on the ground in the manner of Zeus & Co., because the Hilary Mantel message started coming through to yours truly just two or so weeks ago, and has gathered pace since. All roads led, all answers pointed, all blog friends mentioned Hilary Mantel. There she was again, and there, and there. What was the world trying to tell me? Well, that part was easy:
READ HILARY MANTEL.
It started over at How to Shuck an Oyster, when Charlotte added a link to the Guardian review of Mantel’s 2005 novel Beyond Black. I’d never heard of it, but I read the article, and promptly decided to choose the novel as this month’s book club book as, fortuitously, it was my turn to pick. The day after reading Charlotte’s post, Mantel was mentioned on the other Charlotte’s blog, Charlotte’s Web, as one of a dozen or so authors Charlotte was planning to read during her Staycation. Charlotte had Mantel’s latest, Wolf Hall, on her hit list. It may have been that same day my Times Literary Supplement e-news arrived. At the top? An essay by Hilary Mantel. It was starting to feel a little weird. Then I dropped in to read Couchtrip and found Pete, too, discussing Mantel and the Man Booker Prize long list, on which Wolf Hall appears (go, Hilary!). I think it was at this point that I began proclaiming to the heavens, “All right, all right, I get it, I get it, I’m going, I hear you, enough already!”
So I went hunting Mantel. Extraordinarily, none of the Man Town bookstores had any Mantel in stock, but when I strolled into my local secondhand bookstore, Desire, there was a lone Mantel title on the shelf. Conveniently, this was Beyond Black, the title I need to read by the end of August. I may very well have squealed when I saw it there. When I took it up to the counter, the woman said, “Oh, I love this.”
I explained that all roads were leading to Mantel at the moment, but that I’ve somehow managed to completely miss the party until now (I just did a search on Tales From the Reading Room, because I was sure Litlove must have canvassed Mantel, and of course she has, clever duck).
“Oh yes,” the woman at Desire said. “She’s one of those authors not many people know about, but everyone who knows her loves her.”
“So I’m hearing.”
“She’s a fantastic writer.”
“This is what they’re telling me.”
“You’ll love this, it’s brilliant.”
“I believe you.”
And I am loving it. I spent hours Saturday and Sunday either out in the courtyard or curled on the couch glutting myself on Beyond Black and often – precious jewel – laughing out loud. I don’t even mind that I am bolting it – although I know I’ll be sad when it’s gone – because there’s her whole backlist to look forward to (that’s a bit topsy turvy, but you know what I mean), not to mention Wolf Hall, a novel whose Booker Prize odds have steeply improved since the long-list was announced. It seems I’m not the only one belatedly sitting up and paying very close attention. Honestly, discovering Mantel is like winning a prize in itself – and thanks for the tip, you guys.