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9 March 1995
An Experiment in Love 
by Hilary Mantel.
Viking, 250 pp., £15, March 1995, 0 670 85922 2
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... that can be discerned and appraised. We can begin to compare our lives with those of our mothers. Hilary Mantel, born in 1952, has tried out a number of female identities – more than most of us – and succeeded more than most. She has trained as a lawyer and given it up, she has been a social worker and a teacher, she has earned a living in the Middle ...

Diary

Hilary Mantel: Hilary Mantel meets her stepfather

23 October 2003
... swivels on her heels, smiling into their faces. She is saying to everybody, guess who I saw, Jack Mantel, Jack Mantel. She indicates me and says I was embarrassing about the Methodists; she flutters that she hopes Jack Mantel was not offended, for ‘they’re chapel, aren’t ...

Terminus

Hilary Mantel

22 May 1997
... On 9 January, shortly after eleven on a dark sleety morning, I saw my dead father on a train pulling out of Clapham Junction, bound for Waterloo. I glanced away, not recognising him at once. We were on parallel tracks. When I looked back, the train had picked up speed, and carried him away. My mind at once moved ahead, to the concourse at Waterloo Station, and the meeting which I felt sure must occur ...
20 August 1992
A Place of Greater Safety 
by Hilary Mantel.
Viking, 896 pp., £15.99, September 1992, 0 670 84545 0
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... all humbug. The case against the historical novel could hardly be better put; and faced with Hilary Mantel’s latest work, a mammoth 870-page-long novel set in the French Revolution, one is inclined to ask oneself some general questions: as, for instance, whether Henry James wasn’t right about the genre, or whether perhaps reading too much Henry ...
14 September 1989
Lewis Percy 
by Anita Brookner.
Cape, 261 pp., £11.95, August 1989, 0 224 02668 2
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Sexing the cherry 
by Jeanette Winterson.
Bloomsbury, 167 pp., £12.95, September 1989, 0 7475 0464 4
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Fludd 
by Hilary Mantel.
Viking, 186 pp., £11.95, September 1989, 0 670 82118 7
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... it cheers you up. On first acquaintance, it would be hard to think of a less cheering book than Hilary Mantel’s Fludd. The small Northern town in which it is set is magnificently evoked as the most dispiriting place under the sun. Not that the sun often shines on the dismal streets of Fetherhoughton – and its women, formidable though they ...

The Way to Glory

Hilary Mantel

3 March 1988
Chinese Lives: An Oral History of Contemporary China 
by Zhang Xinxin and Sang Ye, edited by W.J.F. Jenner and Delia Davin.
Macmillan, 367 pp., £14.95, February 1988, 0 333 43364 5
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... The Great Wall is the symbol of our nation,’ says one of the speakers in this extraordinary book. ‘It’s falling to pieces, ruined by people and by the elements like a dragon hacked apart.’ China is accessible now, in one sense: you can go on a tour. No doubt the Chinese will develop new layers of opacity, and a souvenir culture to keep the West happy; there would be plenty of precedents ...
21 November 1991
Almost a Gentleman. An Autobiography: Vol. II 1955-66 
by John Osborne.
Faber, 273 pp., £14.99, November 1991, 0 571 16261 4
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... One of the more extraordinary revelations in A Better Class of Person, the first volume of John Osborne’s memoirs, was the fact that the author was proposed as the leading man in the 1948 film The Blue Lagoon. The teenage Osborne by his own account had a hollow chest and acne, and a loin cloth would not have shown these off to advantage; the opportunity to loll among the palms with Jean Simmons went to the Welsh actor Donald Houston ...

Faraway Train

Hilary Mantel

23 January 1997
Flickerbook 
by Leila Berg.
Granta, 256 pp., £15.99, January 1997, 1 86207 004 0
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... The title of this writer’s autobiography is taken from Easy-to-Make Old-Fashioned Toys. ‘Flip-books, or Flickerbooks ... a series of sequential pictures or photographs put on separate pieces of paper, one after the other. When the book was flipped quickly through, the pictures would provide the illustration of a moving picture.’ Thatword ‘illustration’ ought, surely, to be ‘illusion ...

Number One Id

Hilary Mantel: Idi Amin (Dada)

19 March 1998
The Last King of Scotland 
by Giles Foden.
Faber, 330 pp., £9.99, March 1998, 0 571 17916 9
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... When in the mid-Eighties I lived in the port of Jeddah in Saudi Arabia, I lived in a city policed by gossip and run by rumour. While its citizens, flapping in white robes and black veils and wrappings, glided through the streets like formal ghosts, its guest-workers crept through their contracts, guided by intuitions as evanescent and mysterious as those of spiritualists ...

How long?

Hilary Mantel

27 February 1992
The Literary Companion to Sex: An Anthology of Prose and Poetry 
edited by Fiona Pitt-Kethley.
Sinclair-Stevenson, 415 pp., £18, February 1992, 1 85619 127 3
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The Love Quest: A Sexual Odyssey 
by Anne Cumming.
Peter Owen, 200 pp., £15.50, November 1991, 9780720608359
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... Fiona Pitt-Kethley’s favourite novel is a 16th-century Chinese work called Chin P’ing Mei. This book, she believes, was written as an act of vengeance. The author imbued each of the 1600 pages of his manuscript with poison, and presented it to a politician against whom he had a grudge. He knew that the minister, who had a huge appetite for pornography, would lick and turn each page, and so do himself to death ...

Diary

Hilary Mantel: Bookcase Shopping in Jeddah

30 March 1989
... When the Salman Rushdie affair broke, the first thing I thought of was the day we tried to buy a bookcase in Jeddah. Jeddah is Saudi Arabia’s most sophisticated, cosmopolitan city. Compared to the capital, Riyadh, it is liberal and lively. It is also of course very rich. Its shopping malls, with their icy airconditioning, are temples of marble and glass, of lush greenery and tinkling fountains ...

Ultra-Sophisticated

Hilary Mantel

7 December 1989
Life Lines: Politics and Health 1986-1988 
by Edwina Currie.
Sidgwick, 291 pp., £13.95, November 1989, 0 283 99920 9
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My Turn 
by Nancy Reagan and William Novak.
Weidenfeld, 384 pp., £15.95, October 1989, 0 297 79677 1
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Heiress: The Story of Christina Onassis 
by Nigel Dempster.
Weidenfeld, 180 pp., £12.95, October 1989, 0 297 79671 2
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... Edwina had her date with destiny on 10 September 1986. A TV crew were camped outside her house in her Derbyshire constituency, and were shining lights through the windows. Edwina waited for the phone to ring. When it did, it was a man’s voice, telling her to get along without delay to Downing Street. ‘And so, into my battered Maestro... ’ – a nice populist touch there ...

Eunice’s Story

Hilary Mantel

20 October 1994
The Unredeemed Captive: A Family Story from Early America 
by John Demos.
Knopf, 325 pp., $25, July 1994, 0 394 55782 4
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... The Indians attacked in the dead of winter, before dawn. The first the minister knew of it was the sound of axes breaking open his windows and doors. Moments later, twenty painted savages were in his house. Bound and helpless, he watched them kill his six-year-old son, his new baby of six weeks and his black woman slave. This, properly discerned, is an incident from the War of the Spanish Succession ...

Homophobic

Hilary Mantel

13 May 1993
Mary Renault: A Biography 
by David Sweetman.
Chatto, 352 pp., £18, April 1993, 0 7011 3568 9
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... It was Renault, pronounced Renolt, not as in the car: this is one of the many things her admirers will not have known about the low-profile, best-selling author of some of the most remarkable historical fiction of the century. David Sweetman met Mary Renault in 1981, when he interviewed her for the BBC; he had been under the spell of her books since he read them as ‘an awkward, insecure teenager ...

Freak Anatomist

John Mullan: Hilary Mantel

1 October 1998
The Giant, O'Brien 
by Hilary Mantel.
Fourth Estate, 211 pp., £14.99, September 1998, 1 85702 884 8
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... and apparently humane, surgeon. It is a myth that returns in a new and haunting form in Hilary Mantel’s latest novel, where the stories of Hunter and of his Giant tell us of the horror, rather than the wonder, of life. The imagined lives of these two characters are interleaved, as history draws them together. And it is Hunter, in ...

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