Thursday, March 25, 2010

In the interests of fairness...

A while ago I outlined the significant difficulties I had in enjoying Hilary Mantel's Booker Prize-winning Tudor epic, Wolf Hall. Some writers are just plain bad, and that's the end of it, but Mantel clearly isn't in that category. In the interests of balance, therefore, I thought it only right to read an earlier work, and fellow Macmillan New Writer Aliya Whiteley recommended Beyond Black, a story of mediums in the Home Counties, the banality of evil and the evil of banality.

In its humour--beyond black, indeed--its ability to seed everyday events with boredom and menace at the same time, and its freewheeling imagination, it actually reminded me very much of one of Aliya's books. It married lightness of touch with darkness of purpose in a way which was at once chilling and very funny. I won't give too much of the plot away (if you haven't read it, now is the time to do so), but her portrayal of the spirits beyond the grave will live long in the memory.

In some ways it makes Wolf Hall seem an even greater achievement. All the things I had hoped to see in that novel, Mantel can do, because she pulls it off in Beyond Black. She chose not to as her artistic accommodation necessary to find Cromwell's voice. From my own perspective I'd rather she hadn't, but it's hard not admire her virtuosity and control of voice.

I'll read more of Mantel's work in future--but perhaps not just yet.
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Unknown said...

Yes, I agree with the fact that juxtaposing Beyond Black and Wolf Hall as artistic achievements makes one realise how amazing she is. Just because I didn't like the choices she made in Wolf Hall, and I much prefer Beyond Black, doesn't make it any less impressive that she could do both.

Frances Garrood said...

Oh dear. I somehow acquired two copies of Beyond Black, and couldn't get through either of them (so to speak). Perhaps I should give it (them) another go. It was some time ago, and I can't even remember why I didn't like it.