In the latest issue:

Real Men Go to Tehran

Adam Shatz

What Trump doesn’t know about Iran

Patrick Cockburn

Kaiser Karl V

Thomas Penn

The Hostile Environment

Catherine Hall

Social Mobilities

Adam Swift

Short Cuts: So much for England

Tariq Ali

What the jihadis left behind

Nelly Lahoud

Ray Strachey

Francesca Wade

C.J. Sansom

Malcolm Gaskill

At the British Museum: ‘Troy: Myth and Reality’

James Davidson

Poem: ‘The Lion Tree’

Jamie McKendrick

SurrogacyTM

Jenny Turner

Boys in Motion

Nicholas Penny

Jia Tolentino

Lauren Oyler

Diary: What really happened in Yancheng?

Long Ling

Short Cuts: Harry Goes Rogue

Jonathan Parry

Story: ‘Offences against the Person’Hilary Mantel
Close

Terms and Conditions

These terms and conditions of use refer to the London Review of Books and the London Review Bookshop website (www.lrb.co.uk — hereafter ‘LRB Website’). These terms and conditions apply to all users of the LRB Website ("you"), including individual subscribers to the print edition of the LRB who wish to take advantage of our free 'subscriber only' access to archived material ("individual users") and users who are authorised to access the LRB Website by subscribing institutions ("institutional users").

Each time you use the LRB Website you signify your acceptance of these terms and conditions. If you do not agree, or are not comfortable with any part of this document, your only remedy is not to use the LRB Website.


  1. By registering for access to the LRB Website and/or entering the LRB Website by whatever route of access, you agree to be bound by the terms and conditions currently prevailing.
  2. The London Review of Books ("LRB") reserves the right to change these terms and conditions at any time and you should check for any alterations regularly. Continued usage of the LRB Website subsequent to a change in the terms and conditions constitutes acceptance of the current terms and conditions.
  3. The terms and conditions of any subscription agreements which educational and other institutions have entered into with the LRB apply in addition to these terms and conditions.
  4. You undertake to indemnify the LRB fully for all losses damages and costs incurred as a result of your breaching these terms and conditions.
  5. The information you supply on registration to the LRB Website shall be accurate and complete. You will notify the LRB promptly of any changes of relevant details by emailing the registrar. You will not assist a non-registered person to gain access to the LRB Website by supplying them with your password. In the event that the LRB considers that you have breached the requirements governing registration, that you are in breach of these terms and conditions or that your or your institution's subscription to the LRB lapses, your registration to the LRB Website will be terminated.
  6. Each individual subscriber to the LRB (whether a person or organisation) is entitled to the registration of one person to use the 'subscriber only' content on the web site. This user is an 'individual user'.
  7. The London Review of Books operates a ‘no questions asked’ cancellation policy in accordance with UK legislation. Please contact us to cancel your subscription and receive a full refund for the cost of all unposted issues.
  8. Use of the 'subscriber only' content on the LRB Website is strictly for the personal use of each individual user who may read the content on the screen, download, store or print single copies for their own personal private non-commercial use only, and is not to be made available to or used by any other person for any purpose.
  9. Each institution which subscribes to the LRB is entitled to grant access to persons to register on and use the 'subscriber only' content on the web site under the terms and conditions of its subscription agreement with the LRB. These users are 'institutional users'.
  10. Each institutional user of the LRB may access and search the LRB database and view its entire contents, and may also reproduce insubstantial extracts from individual articles or other works in the database to which their institution's subscription provides access, including in academic assignments and theses, online and/or in print. All quotations must be credited to the author and the LRB. Institutional users are not permitted to reproduce any entire article or other work, or to make any commercial use of any LRB material (including sale, licensing or publication) without the LRB's prior written permission. Institutions may notify institutional users of any additional or different conditions of use which they have agreed with the LRB.
  11. Users may use any one computer to access the LRB web site 'subscriber only' content at any time, so long as that connection does not allow any other computer, networked or otherwise connected, to access 'subscriber only' content.
  12. The LRB Website and its contents are protected by copyright and other intellectual property rights. You acknowledge that all intellectual property rights including copyright in the LRB Website and its contents belong to or have been licensed to the LRB or are otherwise used by the LRB as permitted by applicable law.
  13. All intellectual property rights in articles, reviews and essays originally published in the print edition of the LRB and subsequently included on the LRB Website belong to or have been licensed to the LRB. This material is made available to you for use as set out in paragraph 8 (if you are an individual user) or paragraph 10 (if you are an institutional user) only. Save for such permitted use, you may not download, store, disseminate, republish, post, reproduce, translate or adapt such material in whole or in part in any form without the prior written permission of the LRB. To obtain such permission and the terms and conditions applying, contact the Rights and Permissions department.
  14. All intellectual property rights in images on the LRB Website are owned by the LRB except where another copyright holder is specifically attributed or credited. Save for such material taken for permitted use set out above, you may not download, store, disseminate, republish, post, reproduce, translate or adapt LRB’s images in whole or in part in any form without the prior written permission of the LRB. To obtain such permission and the terms and conditions applying, contact the Rights and Permissions department. Where another copyright holder is specifically attributed or credited you may not download, store, disseminate, republish, reproduce or translate such images in whole or in part in any form without the prior written permission of the copyright holder. The LRB will not undertake to supply contact details of any attributed or credited copyright holder.
  15. The LRB Website is provided on an 'as is' basis and the LRB gives no warranty that the LRB Website will be accessible by any particular browser, operating system or device.
  16. The LRB makes no express or implied representation and gives no warranty of any kind in relation to any content available on the LRB Website including as to the accuracy or reliability of any information either in its articles, essays and reviews or in the letters printed in its letter page or material supplied by third parties. The LRB excludes to the fullest extent permitted by law all liability of any kind (including liability for any losses, damages or costs) arising from the publication of any materials on the LRB Website or incurred as a consequence of using or relying on such materials.
  17. The LRB excludes to the fullest extent permitted by law all liability of any kind (including liability for any losses, damages or costs) for any legal or other consequences (including infringement of third party rights) of any links made to the LRB Website.
  18. The LRB is not responsible for the content of any material you encounter after leaving the LRB Website site via a link in it or otherwise. The LRB gives no warranty as to the accuracy or reliability of any such material and to the fullest extent permitted by law excludes all liability that may arise in respect of or as a consequence of using or relying on such material.
  19. This site may be used only for lawful purposes and in a manner which does not infringe the rights of, or restrict the use and enjoyment of the site by, any third party. In the event of a chat room, message board, forum and/or news group being set up on the LRB Website, the LRB will not undertake to monitor any material supplied and will give no warranty as to its accuracy, reliability, originality or decency. By posting any material you agree that you are solely responsible for ensuring that it is accurate and not obscene, defamatory, plagiarised or in breach of copyright, confidentiality or any other right of any person, and you undertake to indemnify the LRB against all claims, losses, damages and costs incurred in consequence of your posting of such material. The LRB will reserve the right to remove any such material posted at any time and without notice or explanation. The LRB will reserve the right to disclose the provenance of such material, republish it in any form it deems fit or edit or censor it. The LRB will reserve the right to terminate the registration of any person it considers to abuse access to any chat room, message board, forum or news group provided by the LRB.
  20. Any e-mail services supplied via the LRB Website are subject to these terms and conditions.
  21. You will not knowingly transmit any virus, malware, trojan or other harmful matter to the LRB Website. The LRB gives no warranty that the LRB Website is free from contaminating matter, viruses or other malicious software and to the fullest extent permitted by law disclaims all liability of any kind including liability for any damages, losses or costs resulting from damage to your computer or other property arising from access to the LRB Website, use of it or downloading material from it.
  22. The LRB does not warrant that the use of the LRB Website will be uninterrupted, and disclaims all liability to the fullest extent permitted by law for any damages, losses or costs incurred as a result of access to the LRB Website being interrupted, modified or discontinued.
  23. The LRB Website contains advertisements and promotional links to websites and other resources operated by third parties. While we would never knowingly link to a site which we believed to be trading in bad faith, the LRB makes no express or implied representations or warranties of any kind in respect of any third party websites or resources or their contents, and we take no responsibility for the content, privacy practices, goods or services offered by these websites and resources. The LRB excludes to the fullest extent permitted by law all liability for any damages or losses arising from access to such websites and resources. Any transaction effected with such a third party contacted via the LRB Website are subject to the terms and conditions imposed by the third party involved and the LRB accepts no responsibility or liability resulting from such transactions.
  24. The LRB disclaims liability to the fullest extent permitted by law for any damages, losses or costs incurred for unauthorised access or alterations of transmissions or data by third parties as consequence of visit to the LRB Website.
  25. While 'subscriber only' content on the LRB Website is currently provided free to subscribers to the print edition of the LRB, the LRB reserves the right to impose a charge for access to some or all areas of the LRB Website without notice.
  26. These terms and conditions are governed by and will be interpreted in accordance with English law and any disputes relating to these terms and conditions will be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales.
  27. The various provisions of these terms and conditions are severable and if any provision is held to be invalid or unenforceable by any court of competent jurisdiction then such invalidity or unenforceability shall not affect the remaining provisions.
  28. If these terms and conditions are not accepted in full, use of the LRB Website must be terminated immediately.
Close
Vol. 30 No. 6 · 20 March 2008
Story

Story: ‘Offences against the Person’

Hilary Mantel

Her name was Nicolette Bland, and she was my father’s mistress. I’m going back to the early 1970s. It’s a long time now since he was subject to urges of the flesh. She looked like a Nicolette: dainty, poised, hair short and artfully curling: dark, liquid, slightly slanting eyes. She was honey-coloured, as if she’d had a package holiday, and she looked rested, and seldom not-smiling. I put her at 26. I was 17, and filling in the summer before university as a junior clerk in my father’s chambers. Devilling, he called it. I never knew why.

I used to watch her type, clip-clip: little darting movements of her pearlescent nails. ‘They say: Wimmin, never learn to type!’ I offered.

They were just beginning to say it, around 1972. ‘Yes, do they?’ she said, a hand hovering for a moment. ‘Don’t start, Vicky. I’ve a lot to get through by dinnertime.’ She made a little swatting movement, and got right back to it, clipetty-clip, clop-clip.

I was fascinated by her feet. I kept hanging my head upside down and peering at them, side by side under the desk. Spike-heels had gone out of style, but she stuck by them. Hers were black and very highly polished. Once, when my father came out of his office, she said without looking up – clip-clop, clickety-clop – ‘Frank, do you think we could get a modesty panel affixed to this desk?’

By the time I came back, at Christmas, I got her desk because she had gone to work at Kaplan’s, across Albert Square. ‘Something of a supervisory element to it,’ my father said. ‘Also broader scope of work – her experience here, you see, being mostly confined as we are to conveyancing – ’

‘Road traffic offences,’ I said. ‘Offences against the person.’

‘Yes, that sort of lark. Plus I understand young Simon offered her the extra hundred a year.’

‘Probably luncheon vouchers,’ I said.

‘I shouldn’t wonder.’

‘Occam’s Razor shaves you closer,’ I said. I had only begun to suspect something when he began multiplying explanations. My foot shot out – this happens, when I see the truth suddenly – and hit the modesty panel with a dull thud.

It was all a novelty to me. I knew men had dealings with their secretaries. I imagined there were sub-species of adultery going on, up and down John Dalton Street, Cross Street, Corn Exchange, but we never did matrimonial, or if we did the clerks locked the files away from me, so my most recent take on male duplicity came from the novels of Thomas Hardy. The 1960s were behind us, the era of free love, but it had not dawned in Wilmslow, from where we commuted on weekdays on the crowded 7.45. I guessed why Nicolette had moved across the square. It was more discreet for a senior partner to be extramural. The Kaplans must be in on it. Repaying a favour, like the time they sent over a spare stapler when ours came apart in my hand.

Our lives till then had been spotless. We lived in an entirely dust-free house, with a mother occupied full-time in whisking it. My sister had gone to teacher-training college. I was of a nature obsessively tidy. As for my father, he was not a man to cause work. Sometimes during that summer he would send me home by myself, saying he must catch up on paperwork – as if there were some other kind of work, like sawing logs, to which a senior partner was bound. He would send with me a message that he would make do with a sandwich when he came in. The brown dinner which my mother was keeping hot for him would shrivel to a stain in its oven-proof serving dish. Solitary in the murk, she would go out into the garden and tie drooping stems to canes, her feet sunk in the earth she had watered earlier. If the telephone rang, ‘Just coming,’ she would trill from the gloaming. ‘See if it’s your father.’ I would hear her knocking the clods off by the back door.

He was on the rota as duty solicitor, and there were nights when he was kept very late at a police station. My mother, who was of a pale nature, would sometimes look paler as the hands of the clock crept round to eleven. ‘Shouldn’t have to do it,’ she would snap. ‘Too senior. Let Peter Metcalfe do it. Let Whatsi Willis do it, he can’t be thirty.’

When he came in my mother smelled alcohol on his breath. ‘Surely not risking your licence?’ She looked brittle.

‘It’s the atmosphere there at Minshull Street,’ he said. ‘It’s highly intoxicating.’

‘You know that Nicolette?’ I said. ‘Is she foreign?’

‘Bland,’ he said: this to my mother. ‘She used to, whatsit. Typing. Now don’t start, Victoria.’

‘Oh yes,’ my mother said. ‘Young Kaplan offered her a pension scheme.’

‘That’s the one. What’s this about, all of a sudden? Why would she be foreign?’

‘Her nice caramel colour. Her little round arms and legs, you know the ones, they look as if they’ve been moulded. As if she was made in Hong Kong.’

‘I had no idea I was entertaining an Enoch Powellite,’ he said huffily.

‘For crying out loud,’ I said. ‘I’d like to know if it’s bottled tan, if so where would I get it. I want to be more attractive to the opposite sex and I have to start somewhere.’

‘You look like a convict with that haircut.’

‘It wouldn’t be my choice,’ my mother said. ‘I mean the tan, the haircut goes without saying. Take a look at her palms when next you see her. If it’s fake they’ll be cocoa-coloured in the cracks. Beauty queens have that dilemma. So Lorraine says.’

Lorraine was her hairstylist. She was a formidable permist and neighbourhood capo, the Cesare Borgia of the tail-comb. My mother had been trying to bring us together. I didn’t like the turn the conversation had taken. As if it were me to be questioned. ‘I’m going to bed.’

‘I hope you won’t have one of your dreams, pet.’

‘Kissy-kissy,’ said my father, offering, under the kitchen strip light, his bristling cheek.

After Christmas, I stayed on in the office while plans were made for my future. Something had gone amiss at university. Though no actual bloodshed was involved. We won’t go into it.

Early in the new year we were in court with an assault that was exciting by our standards. The landlord of a pub in Ancoats was accused of battering one of his customers. The prosecution was ready to say their man had been drinking peaceably at the bar when he felt a call of nature, whereupon the landlord wilfully misdirected him into the backyard, followed him out and booted him around, unprovoked, among the barrels, finally opening a gate and precipitating him into a drear and filthy ginnel. There stood none other than a uniformed constable, straight and true, who witnessing the gash on his head hastened to take his statement in his ready notebook, in which, by the light of a streetlamp that had just wandered into the ginnel, he wrote an immediate and circumstantial account.

The landlord had brought half his regulars along as witnesses to the mildness of his character. A more cut-throat crew you never saw. There was a great deal that was peculiar about the police account of the night, but the landlord, an energetic young Irishman, wasn’t helping his case by causing a disturbance in the corridor outside the courtroom, shouting and hallooing and offering to buy a drink for everyone in sight. ‘Win or lose, sir,’ he shouted at Bernard Bell, who was prosecuting, ‘stroll in at any time and name your pleasure.’

I had to duck myself, to avoid one of his glad-hands. I looked up, steadying myself to follow my papa into court, and to my surprise saw Nicolette appear and then hover at the other end of the corridor. She was frowning, looking about, but when she spotted me she put on a dead-eyed simper. She had some papers in her hand, and she fluttered them, as if suggesting she was on Kaplan business, but somehow I knew she had come to look for my father, I think it was the way her eyes kept roaming, roaming around. ‘Double gin for you, princess,’ the landlord proposed, reeling past her on a policeman’s arm. The policeman’s face said: now do you see why we opposed bail?

When the landlord, who was a likeable sort after all, gave his version of the evening, there was some sniggering from the clerks around me, and roars of laughter from the public gallery. Potts, who was sitting, and was known for having every element of humour left out of him, threatened to clear the court, so there was soon a hush. But I can’t give an account of the case as, just as the police officer took the stand, I felt a kick in my stomach, something like a cloven hoof, and I had to fold myself double to scrabble in the bag at my feet, edge past my father, nod to Potts and back reverently out of the court in the direction of the lavatories. My father, who was now attuned to the biology of young women, gave me a sympathetic glance as I went. I turned at the door, glanced up, and saw that Nicolette was perched in the gallery, squeezed on either side by the landlord’s friends, who bounced silently in their seats at every sally in the court below.

When I came back the court had risen for lunch. Nicolette was in the corridor talking earnestly to my father, her face raised to his. The place seemed deserted. My father was sombre, eyes fixed on her face. But he must be hungry, I thought. He raised his face, he scanned the corridor as if for rescue or a waiter. His eyes passed over me, but he didn’t seem to see me. He looked drained, grey, as if he’d been left standing by the kerb and one of the low-lifes from Ancoats had been siphoning off his blood.

Then the corridor began to fill up with the bustle of the various people hurrying back from lunch. A miasma of extinguished cigarettes, of pale ale and cheese and onion and whisky billowed before them, a smell of wet mackintosh and wet newsprint came in with them, as damp pages of the early edition of the Evening News were unfolded and flapped in the air. Nicolette clipped over to me, smiling, her heels spearing the floor. She seemed keen to strike up a friendship. She clicked open her bag. ‘Your father thought you might need two of these.’ She pulled out a bottle of aspirin.

‘I usually have three.’

‘Be my guest.’

She unscrewed the top with an air of liberality. But there was a cotton wool twist in the neck of the bottle, and when I tried to fish it out it flinched away from my forefinger and impacted itself out of reach. ‘Give it here,’ Nicolette said. She probed the glass with her pearly claw. ‘The little bugger,’ she said.

My father had joined us. Holding up his thick digit, he showed that he was helpless in the matter. Nicolette flushed, her face downturned. Across each eyelid there ran an eely flick, teal blue, drawn with a fine pen. I positioned myself next to her so that I could try to see down her neckline, and find out where her caramel hue ended, but all I could see was an ugly mottling of frustration, spreading crimson to where the buttons of her silk blouse blocked my view.

The forces of the Crown arrived. ‘What’s up, Frank?’ Bernard Bell said.

My father said: ‘My daughter’s started her – she’s started her headache.’

‘Touch of the sun.’ It was February. Nobody smiled.

‘Oh, suit yourselves,’ Bernard said. ‘Tweezers will do it.’

I almost glanced behind me for Tweezers, a rachitic clerk with fingerless gloves. Then I saw that Bernard was digging in his pockets. He came out with some treasury tags, small decimal currency and some fluff. He sifted it, plunged his two hands in again, and ferreted down there for quite a while; it was a tribute, I thought, to the charms of Nicolette. My father snorted: ‘Bernie, you never carry tweezers into court? Nail clippers, yes . . .’

‘You may scoff,’ Bernie said, ‘but I have known nasty injuries occur from slivers of flying glass, where in the hands of a man trained by the St John Ambulance, a handy pair of sterilised – ’

But then Nicolette gave a squeak of triumph. She held up the plug of cotton wool between her fingertips. Three aspirin rolled into my palm. If they’d rolled into her palm, I could have settled a question.

Early in the afternoon the case was thrown out. The Irishman tumbled into the corridor to greet his well-wishers, punching the air and crying, ‘Drinks all round.’

It surprised me to see that Nicolette was still there. She was standing alone, her bag looped over her elbow. She’d lost her papers, whatever they were. She looked as if she were queuing up for something. ‘Very honourably prosecuted, sir, and in a gentleman-like manner,’ the landlord flung in the Crown’s direction. When he passed Nicolette, fists flailing, feet flashing out, I saw her step back against the wall with a briskness almost military, and clamp her forearm across her tiny belly.

That night my father took my mother aside. She kept walking away from him, in little aimless drifts, so he had to follow her down the hall and into the kitchen, saying listen to me Lillian. I went up to the bathroom and looked in the bathroom cabinet, which I normally avoided as the thought made me sick. I sorted through what was in there: a small bottle of olive oil, some oozing ointments, a roll of sticking-plaster and some round-ended scissors with a rust-spot at the junction of their blades: crepe bandages packed in cellophane. There was more provision for casualties than I had imagined. I pulled some cotton wool out of a packet, rolled it up into balls and put it in my ears. I went downstairs. I watched my soundless feet go before me, like scouts. I didn’t look through the kitchen door, though it had a glass panel. But after a while I sensed a vibration under my feet, as if the whole house were shaking.

I went into the kitchen. My father wasn’t there and being quick on the uptake I deduced he must have slipped out through the back door. The room was filled with a dull thudding sound. My mother was beating on the edge of the kitchen table the oven-proof dish in which she usually shrivelled his dinner. It was made of toughened glass and took a long time to break. When it shattered at last she left the wreckage on the floor and brushed past me on her way upstairs. I pointed to my ears, as if to warn her that any commentary on the situation was wasted on me. But left to myself I picked up all the shards of the dish, and carried on picking them up and replacing them on the table. Not having the obliging tweezers by me I took up the fragments out of the carpet tiles with my fingernails. This detailed work of recovery took up a satisfactory amount of time. While the muffled evening continued on its way without me, I arranged the jagged fragments so that the pattern of onions and carrots with which the dish had been decorated was complete again. I left it for her to find, but when I came down next morning it was gone as if it had never been.

I went round to see them after the twins were born. Nicolette was very pally. She tried to reminisce about old times – the modesty panel, all that – but I firmly rebuffed her. My father still looked grey, as he had since the day the Irish landlord was in court, and the babies were both yellow, but he seemed pleased with them, grinning away like a callow youth, I thought. I looked at their little fingers, and the palms of their hands, and marvelled at them, as you are meant to do, and he seemed all right with that. ‘How’s your mother?’ he said.

Something was stewing, a brown foodstuff, on the hotplate of the Baby Belling.

My mother got the house. She said she would have been loath to leave the garden. He had to pay her maintenance, and she spent some of it on yoga classes. Having been a brittle person, she became flexible. Each day she saluted the sun.

I was not a prejudiced young person. I still notice these things, the colours people turn when they’re lying, the colours they turn. Nicolette, I saw, looked as if she needed dusting. She smelled of baby sick and brown stewing, and her curly hair hung above her ears in woolly clumps. She whispered to me: ‘Sometimes he’s on call, you know, the rota. He’s out till all hours. Did he do that before?’

My father, always a diffident man, was agitating his knees beneath his babes, by way of bouncing them. He was singing to them, in a subfusc way: ‘One a penny, two a penny, hot cross buns.’ Love is not free. In point of fact, he was reduced to penury, but he must have counted on that. I expect Simon Kaplan admired him, Bernard Bell, those people. As far as I could see, everybody but me had got what they had ordered. ‘Drinks all round?’ I said. Nicolette, finding her hands free, reached into the sideboard and extracted a bottle of British sherry. I watched her blow the dust off it. Only I had failed to name my pleasure.

Send Letters To:

The Editor
London Review of Books,
28 Little Russell Street
London, WC1A 2HN

letters@lrb.co.uk

Please include name, address, and a telephone number.

Read anywhere with the London Review of Books app, available now from the App Store for Apple devices, Google Play for Android devices and Amazon for your Kindle Fire.

Sign up to our newsletter

For highlights from the latest issue, our archive and the blog, as well as news, events and exclusive promotions.