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November 4, 2014

Short Cuts: Hilary Mantel and Martha Baillie

mantelCould I have chosen a better book to pick up on Halloween than Hilary Mantel’s new short story collection, The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher? Just check out that cover? And no surprise that ghosts pervade the stories in the book, since this is the author of Beyond Black. A woman whose memoir was called Giving Up the Ghost after all (though she hasn’t altogether). I am just a bit Hilary Mantel mad, but I can’t bear enormous historical novels, and so I was quite thrilled about this new book, contemporary Hilary Mantel, the kind I like the very best. And the stories were terrific, the writing exquisite. Lines like, “Then her hands opened. The floor was limestone and the glass exploded.” What writer would set it up that way? Mantel is so smart, so sly. Such deviousness. I love her. Oliver Cromwell, I could take him or leave, but Hilary Mantel in the here and now.

Or at the least in the early 1980s, moments before Thatcher meets her fate: “Who has not seen the door in the wall?… [N]ote the door: note the wall: note the power of the door in the wall that you never saw was there. And note the cold wind the blows through it, when you open it a crack. History could always have been otherwise…”


heinrich-schlogelAnother weird and wonderful book is The Search for Heinrich Schlogel by Martha Baillie, whose Giller-nominated The Incident Report was one of my favourite books of 2009. The new novel comes from a similarly curious sensibility, seemingly created by an archivist with uncanny access to the materials comprising the life of Schlogel, a man who is unremarkable in a number of ways, except that he slips through a hole in time while hiking through the Arctic in 1980, and reemerges 30 years later. Not to even any real end either, and he keeps slipping through our archivist’s fingers (and our own). I enjoyed the book, though also found it at a distance (as it was meant to be), but was compelled throughout the narrative by the strangeness and Baillie’s beautiful writing. It left me baffled, but cast a spell.

4 thoughts on “Short Cuts: Hilary Mantel and Martha Baillie”

  1. Sara says:

    I’ve only read the title story of the new Mantel but am looking forward to digging in. Have you read Beyond Black? I think it’s my favourite of her contemporary novels. (I do love her historical ones as well). And it has my all-time favourite cover.

    Beyond Black is one of my favourite Hilary Mantel novels. And it has this wonderful cover.— Sara O'Leary (@saraoleary) January 29, 2013

    1. Kerry says:

      I love Every Day is Mother’s Day and Six Months on Ghazzah Street, and also An Experiment in Love. I have a copy of A Vacant Possession, which is the sequel to Every Day.. and will probably read it asap. Hilary Mantel is the best.

  2. Nathalie says:

    I liked the one set in Saudi Arabia because I lived in Saudi and because it’s published in a collection of fiction but was first published as memoir. I was hand-sold the book on the idea that each story is the take on the etymology of a single word. The book seller got it wrong, though, so now I’m wondering “What IS the book of short stories in which each story is inspired by the etymology of a single word?!”

    1. Kerry says:

      Have you read her Saudi novel. Nathalie? It’s really great. (the Ghazzah Street one.)

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