One of Britain’s most accomplished, acclaimed, and garlanded writers, Hilary Mantel delivers a brilliant collection of contemporary short stories that demonstrate what modern England has become
In The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher, Hilary Mantel’s trademark gifts of penetrating characterization, unsparing eye, and rascally intelligence are once again fully on display.
Her classic wicked humor in each story—which range from a ghost story to a vampire story to near-memoir to mini-sagas of family and social fracture—brilliantly unsettles the reader in that unmistakably Mantel way.
Mantel brutally and acutely writes about gender, marriage, class, family, and sex, cutting to the core of human experience. Unpredictable, diverse, and even shockingly unexpected, each story grabs you by the throat within a couple of sentences. The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher displays a magnificent writer at the peak of her powers.
I shouldn’t have read this so soon after reading Stone Mattress – you just can’t top Margaret Atwood’s short stories. Nevertheless, I’ve done my best to give it a non-biased review.
Hilary Mantel is a great literary writer, and most of these short stories have been written before and won various awards. Each protagonist has layer upon layer of diverse characterisation that reaches into the reader’s psychosis to draw them into the story. Most of these stories are directed in a way that is different to what I was expecting. The title story is particularly amazing in its ability to confuse you and satisfy you at the same time.
These stories are also a good length – they range between 20-40 pages, and you can get through one or two stories in one sitting, which is easy to do on a lunch break or on the commute to and from work. The Heart Fails Without Warning is my favourite story, and is about the continuous decline of a young anorexic from the point of view of her horrendously rude and unsympathetic sister.
Okay, so there were a couple of faults. Sometime there was too much characterisation. I can’t believe I’m saying that, but in a short story, you have fewer words to get the story told, and sometimes characterisation can bog it down. Sure, in a novel it’s wonderful, but in a short story, I felt myself skipping a couple of paragraphs because it wasn’t moving along quickly enough.
Also, some of the short stories were a little drab. They weren’t as engaging or interesting, and they didn’t capture human society quite like the other stories did. Also, I don’t think the stories particularly blended well together. They were written at different times, and Hilary Mantel never wrote them with the intent that they’d all be put together in a novel. Usually a collection of stories hold a similar theme or underlying exploration of character, but the stories in this novel seemed a little too diverse.
I would recommend this only to a reader who is familiar with literary works.
My Score: 6/10