From one of Britain′s finest authors at work today, a wry, shocking and beautifully written memoir of childhood, ghosts (real and metaphorical), illness and family.
At no. 58 the top of my head comes to the outermost curve of my great-aunt, Annie Connor. Her shape is like the full moon, her smile is beaming; the outer rim of her is covered by her pinny, woven with tiny flowers. It is soft from washing; her hands are hard and chapped; it is barely ten o'clock and she is getting the cabbage on. 'Hello, Our Ilary,' she says; my family has named me aspirationally, but aspiration doesn't stretch to the 'H'.
Giving Up the Ghost is award-winning novelist Hilary Mantel′s wry, shocking and uniquely unusual five-part autobiography of childhood, ghosts, illness and family.
It opens in 1995 with A Second Home, in which Mantel describes the death of her stepfather, a death which leaves her deeply troubled by the unresolved events of childhood.
Now Geoffrey Don't Torment Her begins in typical, gripping Mantel fashion: 'Two of my relatives have died by fire.' Set during the 1950s, it takes the reader into the muffled consciousness of her early childhood, culminating with the birth of a younger brother and the strange candlelit ceremony of her mother's 'churching'.
In The Secret Garden Mantel moves to a haunted house and mysteriously gains a stepfather. When she is almost eleven, her family flee the gossips and the ghosts, and resolve to start a new life.
Smile is an account of teenage perplexity, in a household where the keeping of secrets has become a way of life. Convent school provides a certain sanctuary, with tacit assistance from the fearsome 'Top Nun'.
In the final section, the author tells how, through medical misunderstandings and neglect, she came to be childless, and how the ghosts of the unborn, like chances missed or pages unturned, have come to haunt her life as a writer.
Author Biography: Hilary Mantel was born in Derbyshire. She was educated at a convent and later studied law. After ten years abroad in Africa and the Middle East, she returned to Britain in 1985 to make a career as a writer.
An English critic and novelist (Fludd, 2000, etc.) summons the ghosts of her childhood and youth. In some ways, Mantel's early life was a struggle against ignorance and the brutalities that are its children. A stepfather brooked no disagreements and referred to her as "they"; classmates engaged in creative cruelty; teachers (especially one beast named Malachy) were boring and malevolent; a sexist university law tutor was a "talentless prat in a nylon shirt"; incompetent medicos prescribed psychotropics when confronted with complexity. Mantel begins and ends with the decision to sell their second home, a place in Norfolk she and her husband called "Owl Cottage." Her stepfather's ghost remained there. Mantel believes in specters and relates one particularly harrowing experience, when she was seven, of being occupied by a formless yet substantive horror she saw in the garden. At the time she was sure it was the devil. The experience became one of the enduring presences in her life. Mantel writes about the many other realities with grace, humor, irony, and, sometimes, bitterness. She tells about how she had two fathers living in the house at the same time (her biological father shared the dwelling with her mother's lover), about her relationships with relatives and books. After reading stories about King Arthur she decided she would be a combination railway guard, like her grandfather, and knight errant. She takes us through the Davy Crockett and Elvis crazes (neither touched her much) and describes the remarkable day when she received the results of her pivotal eleven-plus exam: "Passed. So I can have a life, I thought." The most alarming passages deal with her battles with endometriosis, a chronic gynecological disease undiagnosed for a decade by purblind physicians and sexist shrinks. Along the way, she has much of interest to say about the vagaries of memory, the betrayals of the body, and the art of writing. Mantel's voice, often gently whimsical, can also snarl with anger and bite with satire. (Kirkus Reviews)