Book reviews

Posts tagged ‘Hilary Mantel’

The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher by Hilary Mantel

I forgot that I disliked Every Day is Mother’s Day by Hilary Mantel when I started reading The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher. Happily for me I enjoyed this collection of short stories better than I did the mean streak that ran through Every Day is Mother’s Day.

Sorry to Disturb is the story of a woman living in Saudi Arabia in 1983. While her husband works she fills her days writing a novel and visiting women living in her building. When a Pakistani man knocked on her door and asked to use her telephone, she became saddled with a persistent and unwelcome visitor who she found difficult to get rid of.

Comma was told by a little girl who along with her friend from a lower social class, were fascinated by the love and care shown by a neighbour to a well-wrapped, comma-shaped bundle.

The Long QT was the story of a man whose wife unexpectedly walked into their kitchen during a party to find him canoodling with one of their guests. I found the shock ending of this story distressing.

The middle-aged, subtly-controlling husband in Winter Break was also a disappointment to his wife, although the story was troubling for different reasons than his character faults. As they drove to their holiday accommodation in Greece their taxi driver ran over and killed a kid. I’m not sure if the kid was a baby goat or a child. Since he had always refused to allow her to have a child this seemed symbolic, although of what I don’t know.

Harley Street told the story of a woman who worked in a medical centre. Although she didn’t have much in common with her colleagues, she still attempted to socialise with them. Some people say that work is work and home is home, and that the two should not be mixed. Having read this story I’m inclined to agree.

Offences Against the Person was told by another young woman, this time one who was working during her holiday in her father’s office. As it turned out, her father was having an affair with his secretary. As per my comment for Harley Street, work is work and home is home, and the two should not be mixed.

How Shall I Know You? was the story of a writer who agreed to make a speech to a literary group. After an uncomfortable trip with an overnight stay in horrible accommodation with nothing to eat I’m surprised she ever agreed to attend another. I wondered while I was reading this if the author had had similar experiences herself. and thought she probably had.

Family connections were explored in The Heart Fails Without Warning which told the story of two young sisters, one of whom had anorexia and in Terminus, where a young woman saw a man on a train who she thought was her dead father.

The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher is the longest in the collection. The main character is a woman who inadvertently let a man into her home who intended to assassinate Margaret Thatcher from the bedroom window, which overlooked a hospital where the Prime Minister was due to be released from after a minor operation. Although surprised by her intruder, the woman was sympathetic to his cause and unexpectedly helped him to set up his weapon before suggesting how he could escape after the assassination had been carried out.

The stories in this collection are told in a fearless style which I admired, even though I didn’t like many of the characters or approve of their actions. I’m still on the fence about Hilary Mantel. Her writing is good, but her characters are mean.

Every Day is Mother’s Day by Hilary Mantel

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Every Day is Mother’s Day by Hilary Mantel has an unpleasant plot and nasty characters whose behaviour is mean. Fay Weldon’s comment on the front cover, “What a terrific book,” sucked me right in, causing me to expect fun and frivolity from the story. I should have known better though, as Fay Weldon’s own writing often features a mean streak…

Evelyn Axon is an old duck who lives in a once-grand English home with her mentally disabled, adult daughter Muriel. Evelyn is a highly sought-after medium (by her neighbours, anyway), but is struggling with poltergeists terrorising her at home.

Evelyn desperately needs help, but won’t admit it, and she won’t accept help when it is given (or forced) upon her. A barrage of social workers become involved in Muriel’s case and arrange for Muriel to attend Daycare Sessions, where she makes baskets and steals the tea-money. When the Daycare Sessions are temporarily closed without Evelyn’s knowledge, Muriel goes off during the days to goodness knows where and comes back pregnant.

Eventually Isobel Field takes on Muriel’s case after four or five other social workers have been involved over less than six months. Isobel genuinely cares about her clients and tries to do the right thing by Muriel and Evelyn, but she is overworked, out of her depth and is blocked by Evelyn at every turn. Isobel is also distracted because she is having an affair with Colin, an unhappily married man.

Every Day is Mother’s Day was set in the early to mid 1970s and it shows. The misery of marriage, the casual way that Colin and Isobel fall into their affair, ‘hip’ parties where guests ignore drunken sexual abuse, characters drink-driving, Evelyn’s snobbish attitude towards her neighbours and her uncaring, hostile behaviour towards her daughter all showcase the worst of these times.

The book is well written, but the story is bleak. I didn’t find anything funny in it.

I believeĀ Every Day is Mother’s Day was Hilary Mantel’s first book. I will give this author one more try, but am hoping for a happier plot and some likeable characters next time.

 

 

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