Our Editors Remember Hilary Mantel

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From The Paris Review:

At school, Hilary Mantel’s A Place of Greater Safety was recommended by the history teacher I, a hateful teenager, liked least (pedantic; prone to raptures over seemingly arcane points of fact). He proclaimed it the best book we could read on the French Revolution; since it was the only novel on the list, I opened it anyway, and was reluctantly entranced. (Robespierre, self-conscious, trying to muster something better than his usual thin, cold smile for Danton—“But it was the only one available to his face.”) Mantel’s imagination was uncannily sinuous: it seemed she could absorb and reinvent her revolutionaries without bending or avoiding any of the established facts, and dance her way through the countless disputed ones. By the time of Wolf Hall, she could conjure a Thomas Cromwell faithful to the historical record whose thoughts ran quick and vital, with no whiff of the antique. Those intricately researched and constructed books are animated throughout by the thrill it evidently gave Mantel to inhabit a mind like Cromwell’s—to imagine its unusual intelligence, the dark jokes it might tell itself even in extremis. There’s a moment when our man, believing he may die, is reluctant to give confession, to relinquish those sins “that others have not even found the opportunity of committing … they’re mine.” He goes on: “Besides, when I come to judgment I mean to come with a memorandum in my hand: I shall say to my Maker, I have fifty items here, possibly more.”

—Lidija Haas, deputy editor

Hilary Mantel’s Giving Up the Ghost is one of my favorite memoirs—a book about illness without sentimentality, let alone self-pity; about the supernatural, without the woo-woo; about motherhood without children:

You come to this place, midlife. You don’t know how you got here, but suddenly you’re staring fifty in the face. When you turn and look back down the years, you glimpse the ghosts of other lives you might have led. All your houses are haunted by the person you might have been. The wraiths and phantoms creep under your carpets and between the warp and weft of your curtains, they lurk in wardrobes and lie flat under drawer liners. You think of the children you might have had but didn’t. When the midwife says, “It’s a boy,” where does the girl go? When you think you’re pregnant, and you’re not, what happens to that child that has already formed in your mind? You keep it filed in a drawer of your consciousness, like a short story that wouldn’t work after the opening lines.

—Emily Stokes, editor

Link to the rest at The Paris Review

Note: When PG checked Amazon’s Wolf Hall page, the Kindle version had been reduced to $2.99