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the Complete Review

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Hilary Mantel
at the
complete review:

     

biographical | bibliography | quotes | pros/cons | our opinion | links


Biographical

Name: Hilary MANTEL
Nationality: England
Born: 6 July 1952
Awards: Shiva Naipaul Memorial Prize, 1987
Winifred Holtby Award, 1990
Hawthornden Prize, 1996
Man Booker Prize, 2009
Man Booker Przie, 2012

  • Born in Derbyshire, England
  • Attended LSE and University of Sheffield
  • Lived in Botswana (1977-1982) and Saudi Arabia (1983-1986)

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Bibliography

Highlighted titles are under review at the complete review

Please note that this bibliography is not necessarily complete.

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Quotes

What others have to
say about
Hilary Mantel:

  • "Hilary Mantel is a darkly inventive storyteller who has in the past dealt ruthlessly with, among other targets, unhappy families, the social services, the Roman Catholic Church and the French Revolution. Her fictions blaze with satiric vision. Her tone is usually cool and her stance detached." - Julia O'Faolain, Times Literary Supplement (24/2/1995)

  • "She has several points in common with (Graham Greene): she is the blackest of black comedians; she can make your flesh creep with horror and especially with the apprehension of it; and she often sets her story against a background of sinister political tyranny (...). Another thing she has in common with Greene is an interest in redemption -and she sometimes puts in a character who is a saint of sorts. Greene was a Catholic convert; Mantel was brought up a Catholic though it is not clear whether she still is one; both of them understand about Original Sin." - Gabriele Annan, The New York Review of Books (8/8/1996)

  • "Hilary Mantel is a superb, prize-winning English novelist whose relative obscurity in this country is one of those transatlantic literary puzzles." - Rebecca Radner, San Francisco Chronicle (27/7/1997)

  • "Even those chilled by the persistent downbeat of Mantel's vision will surely be seduced by her sharp humor, reminiscent of Muriel Spark or Edna O'Brien, and her nail-biting narration in which ambiguous political and religious concerns are wrapped in the brisk plotting of a suspense thriller, a la Graham Greene or Brian Moore." - Charlotte Innes, The Los Angeles Times (14/9/1997)

  • "Ms. Mantel is an acute observer, fearless in exploring difficult subjects wherever they may lead her." - Merle Rubin, Wall Street Journal (24/9/1997)

  • "At her best -- and there are passages in The Giant, O'Brien that are breathtaking in their imaginative daring, their word-magic and their philosophical reach -- she is a novelist without peer in her generation, who deserves to take her place among the greatest of all historical novelists." - Carey Harrison, San Francisco Chronicle (14/2/1999)

  • "Mantel is a prolific, protean figure who doesn't fit into many of the established pigeonholes for women writers, and whose output ranges from the French revolution (A Place of Greater Safety) to her own troubled childhood (Giving Up the Ghost)." - Christopher Tayler, The Guardian (2/5/2009)

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Pros and Cons
of the author's work:

    Pros:
  • A very strong stylist, and able to express a great deal concisely
  • Varied subject matter of novels -- from historic fiction to tales from modern Saudi Arabia and Africa
  • Unsparing in her treatment of her characters
  • Moral books, without the preachy moralizing
  • No simple, clear division between good and evil (and there's a lot of evil)

    Cons:
  • Her vision is often dark and bleak
  • Roundabout approach in her novels, building suddenly to some fairly horrific end, can be somewhat annoying
  • Likes to leave some things unsaid
  • Too much psychology for some tastes (and simply to penetrating for others)
  • Social concerns tiresome for some

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the complete review's Opinion

     One is never entirely certain what one can expect in a Hilary Mantel book. From an ambitious (possibly overly ambitious) novel about the French Revolution, A Place of Greater Safety, to novels describing places far off the tourist track -- southern Africa (A Change of Climate) and Saudi Arabia (Eight Months on Ghazzah Street) -- that Mantel knows closely from extended stays in each, to dark, murderous comedies with a social concern (her first two novels), Mantel has covered far more terrain in her work than most authors do in a lifetime.
     Her greatest strength is her style. It is sustained throughout her books, but even among the consistently solid writing there are, in each book, a few gems of the highest order strewn in, memorable sentences that perfectly sum up a person or a situation. A sometime travel writer, she also does place particularly well, be it foreign, from a different time, or even native England.
     There is comedy throughout Mantel's books -- many truly funny bits -- but there is also evil and darkness. Mantel's books are true to life -- uncompromisingly so (which might make them too bleak for some). Her characters muddle through, with most accepting their fate. There is amazingly little railing against the unfairness of life -- perhaps the only aspect of her books that does not ring entirely true.
     There is tragedy. There is horror. There are, in almost every book, at least a few scenes which are truly horribly funny. Evil is a part of a life, a given, though the characters who are truly evil are either minor or ones that can't really help themselves -- and they tend to be almost as sympathetic (or not) as their victims.
     Mantel is also a political writer, with social concerns. Every Day is Mother's Day and Vacant Possession don't pound their social points home too directly, but they clearly also mean to show the state of social and medical care in England in the 70s and 80s. Not-yet Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher makes an anonymous cameo in An Experiment in Love in one beautiful and devastating scene. Mantel's books also feature a variety of do-gooders -- social workers, teachers, and others -- but doing good, despite their best efforts, only gets everyone concerned so far.
     Her two contemporary foreign novels -- A Change of Climate and Eight Months on Ghazzah Street -- also paint devastating portraits of horrible political systems (in South Africa and Saudi Arabia).

     Mantel has not yet written a great novel, but she has written a number of very good ones. They are interesting, varied, and very well-written, almost always a great pleasure to read. Her next effort is always eagerly awaited.

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Links

Hilary Mantel: Hilary Mantel's books at the complete review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See also India: A Mosaic, which includes a review by Mantel
  • See Index of other Author Pages at the complete review
  • See Index of contemporary British fiction at the complete review

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