Arriving Late to the Party

August 10, 2009 at 5:45 am (Uncategorized)

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:


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.



  1. Charlotte said,

    OOh, I am jealousl. I am desperate for Beyond Black but my bookshop didn’t have it either and I was too impatient to order, consequently now missing out for weeks. I’m off to the bookshop NOW.

  2. litlove said,

    Aww you are so sweet to link to me! I haven’t read enough HIlary Mantel – the one I really want to get to is Giving Up The Ghost, her autobiography. I’ve heard marvellous things about it. And I also have An Experiment in Love on my shelves, too. She’s moved up the pile again after this persuasive post!

  3. doctordi said,

    Now, that really doesn’t seem at all fair, Charlotte!!!! I hope they – which means you – have it now? If not, I’ll be done very shortly, and you are more than welcome to borrow mine.

    Litlove, I was thinking I’d like to read Giving Up the Ghost too – she must be a thoroughly fascinating person, so funny, so sharp, but far too good at writing damage not to have experienced it herself.

  4. Fugitive Pieces said,

    Ooh, welcome…I’m in the middle of a binge re-read of all of them. Love Mantel. LOVE HER. She is the Mistress of balancing poetry and plot. Chapter One of Beyond Black is consummate writing – I remember putting it down and staring into space, then picking up the book and yes, bolting it. Still holding off on Wolf Hall in a delicious-treat, phone-will-be-off-the-hook anticipatory way. If only I could do that with cake.
    I can see that, in a couple of months’ time, I’ll be loftily saying”Oh, I’ve known about her for years…” and similarly smug utterances – the literary equivalent of the person who saw the Beatles at their 3rd ever gig, in the back of the local pub. You can all punch me then. I don’t care, as long as she wins the Booker.
    (BTW, this might interest you:

    • doctordi said,

      And a very warm welcome to you, Fugitive Pieces! How nice to see you here. Yes, I’m feeling a bit sick with excitement about all the Mantel I have ahead of me – I can’t wait. Beyond Black just got seriously creepy – I was shivering in my bed with my cup of tea this morning, feeling really quite spooked. My flesh was creeping. And I don’t blame you for feeling smug, I say you’ve earned bragging rights. Yes, I’m now definitely sending Booker vibes out into the universe with her name stamped upon them. Thanks for the interview link – lovely! I’ll be off to read that right now.

  5. charlotteotter said,

    I can happily report that the first chapter of Wolf Hall is bloody brilliant! I am trying to prevent myself from gobbling it.

    You should know, given that this is a post about synchronicity, that I own a flat in the same Surrey block of flats where the lovely Hilary lives. When I lived there, I was always trying to bump into her in the car park (not literally, though that would have been a start), but she was such a recluse that I only saw her once in two years. Her husband does all the shopping and domestic stuff and I saw him quite a bit carrying his Sainsbury’s bags.

    The block is an old Victorian asylum, known as Florence Court, so there’s probably some relation to Florence Nightingale, and Mantel mentions it in Giving Up the Ghost. Funny how she doesn’t mention her lovely neighbour, the aspiring author, Charlotte Otter.

    • doctordi said,

      Charlotte, that’s just too much, I tell you. TOO MUCH! Really? Just once?? Fascinating. I didn’t know she was a recluse. Still getting clued up (am about to read that interview Fugitive Pieces pointed out above, just wanted to respond first). And gosh, an old Victorian asylum and all – this story just gets better and better. What about fan mail? You could have slipped an envelope right under her door (there’s a great line in Beyond Black about why didn’t the fiends nail the front door’s mail slot closed – I hope she’s not done that in Surrey!). Did you accost her when you did have your one and only sighting? Were words exchanged? I’m riveted!

  6. Pete said,

    Lucky you for finding Beyond Black. I’m off to scour my local ebookstore right now. I remember reading a piece of hers in the London Review and loving it. And if becoming a recluse is what it takes to improve my writing, then sign me up for that, please.

    • doctordi said,

      Pete, don’t you think it’s funny how many fabulous writers are rumoured recluses… ?Although if Charlotte only saw Hilary once in two years, that’s more than a rumour. Yes, I wonder if it would help? I always feel I have to be out in the world, seeing stuff, experiencing things, meeting people, but hiding away has clearly served Hilary exceptionally well.

  7. Grad said,

    Hi Di! She’s b-a-a-a-c-k. I do envy you the opportunity to curl up and read this weekend. Beyond Black sounds just the ticket for when I come up for air. I’m afraid I haven’t been anywhere exotic. I got tired of living in chaos, and took the time off necessary to complete my kitchen! I must say it looks marvelous! The wallpaper – gone; the walls – patched, sanded, and primed. Then finally painted a lovely color called Nantucket Gray (why I can’t figure, since it’s more greeny-gray). The wood trim a wonderful glossy, happy white. The do-dads and thing-a-mabobs that populated the counters – on their way to a garage sale. The Kitchen Aid mixer, Keurig coffee maker and All Clad cookware kept – most everything else must GO. New faucet, lighting and range hood in boxes waiting for installation. God’s in His Heaven, all’s right with my kitchen.

    • doctordi said,

      Graddikins, it’s just as well you’re back, because I woke up this morning thinking today’s post would be entitled ‘Where’s Grad?’ – I’m so glad you were just distracted by the gleam of your very smart sounding new kitchen. Charlotte at How to Shuck an Oyster has a new kitchen, too, and I must say it all sounds very nice, yours and hers, and mine is not nearly so exciting. In fact, it’s rubbish.

      The weekend reading was really decadent, I loved it. But your time was well spent – I love the sound of Nantucket Grey (or Gray to you). I can just picture that.

  8. doctordi said,

    Okay, I have gulped down that interview, and I must say, Hilary doesn’t sound like a recluse at all! Maybe she DOES go out in disguise? Or maybe Charlotte and Hilary kept opposite hours?! Whatever, I wish she were MY neighbour – I’d be over there in a shot.

  9. Jewelele Barrile said,

    Guess what, Darkling! Mantelmania’s hit hard down here too. I read the first chapter of Wolf Hall yesterday, and swooned. Now I’ve secured a HB copy (you know how I love hardbacks) of Beyond Black & Giving Up The Ghost off Readings bargain table for truly very few gold coins considering. Here at Coventry Bookstore we only have Wolf Hall in stock & all other titles of hers are indent (a whole month away). So I did the gritty impatient swoop on Readings at 11pm last night…no way I can spin Wolf out for too long either Charlotte.

    I played a download of Hilary interviewed on Book Show a few weeks ago on my way to work today (I’ve got it bad!) – which is so GOOD! Chase it up if you can, won’t you.

  10. doctordi said,

    Ooh, JB, I can’t believe you’ve got three all lined up, you lucky cow! And HB, no less. Book envy reigns.

    Yes, I’ll see if I can’t track that down – you downloaded it? I’ll see. Hopeless with that sort of stuff.

  11. doctordi said,

    And Fugitive Pieces, I was getting that feeling… things have taken a decidedly sinister turn. I’m full of dread. And I love the way you keep feeding us these links, it’s brilliant.

  12. Fugitive Pieces said,

    Book Show interview: – there’s a transcript there too.

  13. doctordi said,

    Fantastic! Thanks, Fugitive – you’re quick as a flash! I read the transcript, and then I decided no, no, I really wanted to hear her voice – staggering intellect, one strongly suspects.

  14. doctordi said,

    Okay, I’ve finished, and I won’t talk about the ending because I know some of you are yet to read it, but WOW, what incredible writing. Mostly what I feel is a strong desire to go back to page one and read it all again.

  15. Jewelele Barrile said,

    I love Fugitive Pieces’ staggeringly quick-and-to-the-precise-point links too.

  16. doctordi said,

    I know, she’s a dynamo!

  17. Fugitive Pieces said,

    Aw, shucks. I did have a head start on Mantel. But believe me, I can also get somewhat…various, and off the point. Witness my smooth segues from rhubarb to immunology to ’80s fashion, in response to Di’s next post. Seamless, if I say so myself. In the sense of there being no seam whatsoever.

  18. James said,

    Please looking cookware set in my site.

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