Right on tar­get

Man­tel’s col­lec­tion greater than the sum of its parts

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - BOOKS - Re­viewed by Deb­bie Pat­ter­son

HI­LARY Man­tel’s deft sto­ry­telling in The As­sas­si­na­tion of Mar­garet Thatcher will come as no sur­prise to her fans. Her two most re­cent books, Wolf Hall and its se­quel Bring up the Bod­ies, both won the Man Booker prize. While her many faith­ful read­ers wait im­pa­tiently for the third book in the Thomas Cromwell tril­ogy, Man­tel has gen­er­ously com­piled a col­lec­tion of short sto­ries to tide us over. Nine of the 10 sto­ries in this col­lec­tion were pre­vi­ously pub­lished in pe­ri­od­i­cals and an­tholo­gies, with only The As­sas­si­na­tion of Mar­garet Thatcher as a newly pub­lished piece. While each story stands stur­dily on its own, as a col­lec­tion they build upon each other, cre­at­ing a thing greater than the sum of its parts. The sto­ries be­gin quite in­ter­nal and con­tained. Sorry to Dis­turb, the first story in the col­lec­tion, de­scribes the con­strained and claus­tro­pho­bic life of a woman writer liv­ing in Saudi Ara­bia. Her only company is the other women liv­ing in her apart­ment block, her non­de­script hus­band, and a strange man who keeps drop­ping by for awk­ward vis­its over tea. That is fol­lowed up by a story of two young lower-class girls, Kitty and Mary, who be­come in­sep­a­ra­ble for one hot dreary sum­mer. They spy on a house where rich peo­ple live, hop­ing to catch a glimpse of the terrifying creature that Mary in­sists dwells within. Mary, the older of the two girls, de­scribes the creature as not hav­ing a hu­man shape, but rather the shape of a comma. Ev­ery day the girls sit in the bushes, paus­ing, sus­pended, wait­ing to see the comma. The Long QT ex­plores the mo­ment of a man giv­ing him­self per­mis­sion to in­dulge in an ex­tra­mar­i­tal af­fair. Man­tel out­lines, in ex­quis­ite de­tail, the cas­cad­ing thoughts, equiv­o­ca­tions and jus­ti­fi­ca­tions that tear through a man’s mind the mo­ment he first kisses a woman who is not his wife. The en­tire story ex­plores less than a minute in real time: the flirt, the kiss, the decision, the dis­cov­ery and the dev­as­tat­ing con­clu­sion. The richly tac­tile qual­ity of Man­tel’s prose shows us a pow­er­ful writer at the top of her game. The Heart Fails With­out Warn­ing is crush­ingly beau­ti­ful. Eleven-year-old Lola watches as her sis­ter Morna starves her­self into pure ethe­real light. Their fran­tic par­ents threaten, ca­jole, plead with her to eat, but Morna is un­moved. While Lola is trapped in the midst of the three strong-willed peo­ple vy­ing for con­trol, Morna just floats above the pull of ap­petite, and has noth­ing but dis­dain for the de­sires of oth­ers. The oth­er­worldly na­ture of Morna’s ob­ses­sion with light­ness leads us into the fi­nal two sto­ries in the col­lec­tion, both of which live out­side our daily world. In Ter­mi­nus, a woman in­ad­ver­tently catches a glimpse of her dead fa­ther rid­ing on a train, which is sit­ting on a track par­al­lel to her own train. When the two trains pull into the sta­tion she searches desperately for the ghost of her fa­ther. As she scans com­muters — all mov­ing as one through the sta­tion — she be­gins to won­der how many are in fact flesh and blood hu­mans and how many are ghosts. She loses the abil­ity to dis­cern be­tween the phys­i­cal and ethe­real. Fi­nally, The As­sas­si­na­tion of Mar­garet Thatcher fully lives in the space be­tween true and un­true, real and imag­ined. It is at once a clever and fas­ci­nat­ing study of the re­la­tion­ship be­tween an as­sas­sin and his hostage, and a bril­liant ex­plo­ration of the hinge be­tween pos­si­bil­ity and re­al­ity. Man­tel’s writ­ing crack­les on the page. Her abil­ity to cre­ate de­tailed worlds, her will­ing­ness to sound the depths of the hu­man con­di­tion, and her at­trac­tion to the scan­dalous make this col­lec­tion of short sto­ries a po­tent ad­ven­ture. Deb­bie Pat­ter­son is a Win­nipeg play­wright,

di­rec­tor and per­former.


Hi­lary Man­tel’s at­ten­tion to de­tail and at­trac­tion to the scan­dalous make her col­lec­tion a po­tent one.

The As­sas­si­na­tion of Mar­garet Thatcher and

Other Sto­ries

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