Saturday, October 01, 2022

Hilary Mantel: ‘Human beings are such miracles, yet so defectively assembled’

You are afraid to suffer, but it were better to thank God for it, since the more you undergo down here, the less you will endure above. Grief is a portion of one's heritage taken in advance from Purgatory.

~ Saint Lydwine of Schiedam

Hilary Mantel, who spent much of her life in the past with the dead, is dead. She was 70 »

       Hilary Mantel (1952-2022) 

       As widely noted, two-time Booker Prize-winning author Hilary Mantel has passed away; see, for example, the obituaryby Lisa Allardice in The Guardian, or tributes by a variety of "leading contemporaries", also in The Guardian
       Half a dozen of her works are under review at the complete review, but I haven't reviewed anything of hers (or updated the existing reviews, sigh) in well over a decade -- i.e. once she hit it so big. 

I’ll always treasure my last meeting with Hilary Mantel

In her memoir, Giving Up the Ghost, Mantel reveals the mystery of her method: “Eat meat. Drink blood,” she writes. “Rise in the quiet hours of the night and prick your fingertips and use the blood for ink.” You may be tempted to dismiss as hackneyed the notion of draining one’s veins for art, but then you discover that blood was the defining substance, the governing catastrophe, of Mantel’s life.

Dr Anis Yusuf

There are not many writers who, like prophets, seize, melt down, and reshape the archetypal stories of their people.

Hilary Mantel’s Life with Ghosts The author, who has died at the age of seventy, saw little distinction between the living and the dead.

Hilary Mantel: “I had to be in middle age to imagine what the weight of life does to you”

Weight of History and Cold River 

Remembering Hilary Mantel, our greatest critic of power

Hilary Mantel: ‘Human beings are such miracles, yet so defectively assembled’

Hilary Mantel: ‘Human beings are such miracles, yet so defectively assembled’

The novelist on her earliest memory, the afterlife and Tertius, ‘the Prince of Cats’

Lying in my pram, watching the light break up as treetops rustled in the wind. 
Who was or still is your mentor?
 I dedicated my first book to my friend Christian Bevington and her family. I met Christian, who has recently retired as a judge, when I was 18. She was a few years my senior and in my tutorial group at the London School of Economics. She set me an example of how to deal with life gracefully, and I hold it in mind even if I can’t always imitate it. Her persevering generosity has helped me through dark times. 

How fit are you? 
When I was small, an unkind doctor called me “Little Miss Neverwell”. Now I’m Great Dame Neverwell. My health is unpredictable and a daily source of tension. But I am always looking for improvement.

Tell me about an animal you have loved.
 It was in the Bevington household above that I first saw Tertius and exclaimed, “That is the Prince of Cats.” He was a chocolate-brown Burmese and he became my watch-cat when he was eight years old. Active, happy and vigilant, he lived to be 22. When my husband and I formed a company, we took him as a role model and called it Tertius Enterprises. 

In small things, extreme caution: “Take your raincoat. In fact, why not take two?” But for a new country or a project, I’ve been ready to jump. In big decisions you seldom have all the information you need. If you hesitate and rationalise for too long, your courage slips away. 

What trait do you find most irritating in others? 
What trait do you find most irritating in yourself? 
Where to begin? I use hearing aids but wander around without them, making inaccurate guesses about what’s happening. I employ unsourced quotations and faded locutions that no one understands. I don’t even finish my sentences . . .  
What drives you on? 
Curiosity: the need to know how a sentence might end. Although I can’t help quoting Belloc: “I’m tired of love; I’m still more tired of rhyme. But money gives me pleasure all the time.” 
Do you believe in an afterlife?
 I can’t imagine how it might work. However, the universe is not limited by what I can imagine.

Which is more puzzling, the existence of suffering or its frequent absence? 
Neither puzzles me. Human beings are such miracles, yet so defectively assembled: angels and beasts, murdering and redeeming in the same breath. Name your favourite river. I saw the Thames first when I was 13. I wrote a poem to it. I’m grateful I don’t have the manuscript. That summer I went by water from Richmond to Hampton Court. A consequential day, as it turned out.
Run away from certain people who turned out to be “toxic”. I don’t have an inbuilt toximeter. Perhaps one should be retrofitted. 

“The Wolf Hall Picture Book” by Hilary Mantel, Ben Miles and George Miles (4th Estate) is out on September 15

 When I write about the 16th century, I’m writing about really raw power, inequality, poverty, exploitation, battles over scarce resources, overt misogyny. A backwards society, a superstitious society. And actually, I think most of the world still works like that. And so nobody can really convince me that historical fiction isn’t relevant.

Hilary Mantel Thinks the Last Book Is Her Best

Hilary Mantel knew how corrosive deference to monarchy can be – and why we must resist

Recommended reading: Hilary Mantel’s review of Kate Atkinson’s debut novel.