Monday, 8 November 2010

Hiliary Mantel, Beyond Black

Just because Ms Mantel won the Booker prize in 2009 with Wolf Hall is no good reason for me to read it immediately. In fact, the opposite; it's a good reason for not reading it immediately. I haven't read Ms Mantel before and feel the need to get to know her first before taking on her award winning work. As for all newly acclaimed authors whom I have never read, I want first to know her backstory.

So when I spotted Beyond Black in a secondhand book stall down on the front at a small weekend market by West Pier a few months ago, I bought it and added it to my reading list.

As one who has never been overcome by Jane Austen, I am suspicious of women writing of women, and Beyond Black is a story almost exclusively of women. I am particularly suspicious of stories of women who dabble in the dark arts, believe in the occult and place their trust in fringe remedies for life threatening diseases, such as a severe hangover. [It is evident I would not be a natural supporter of the Tea Party were I an American.] And Beyond Black is all about women with these hobbies: Alison, the main protagonist, her mother and grandmother are all natural psychics and Alison, in particular, spends her life negotiating the ground between the spirit world and here.

As Fay Weldon says in her review in the Guardian, 'If, as a reader, you feel briskly and brightly that dead is dead, alive is alive, and anything else is nonsense, this novel is probably not for you.'

I will flatly contradict her: this novel is absolutely for you.

Though the story may revolve around Alison and the spirits that keep invading her space, the spirits of vile men she knew as a child growing up with an equally vile mother who survived by providing services for the squaddies from the barracks around Aldershot, the story is really of two strong individuals, Alison and her business partner and full-time companion, Collette, each dealing with their past. You may take the ghosts literally or figuratively.

Now stories by women of women who are fully rounded individuals with all their flaws, and who deal as best they can with life instead of being overwhelmed by it, I enjoy. Stories written as richly, and with such depth and beautifully observed detail as Beyond Black  are a treat all too rare.

Beyond Crusty

Today at 12.45 p.m. my first ever loaf was baked, classic soda bread, with the midwifery of a recipe from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. Baker and bread are doing fine.


Lane said...

I've always 'meant' to read Hilary Mantel - just never have. However your review has prompted me to put this one on the list. It sounds 'just my thing' - whatever that is.

Nice looking soda bread. Funny I saw someone making it on the TV the other day - not HFW - and yours looks every bit as good.

DOT said...

Do! I really thought it was not going to be my thing but Oh! the language - almost as tasty and deeply satisfying as my soda bread.

Jenny Beattie said...

Ditto what Lane said. Wolf Hall is on my shelf waiting... Thanks for the fab review.

DOT said...

Aww, chucks, Jenny. You've made me blush