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Book Review

#BookReview ‘Giving up the Ghost’ by Hilary Mantel


Giving up the Ghost cover.jpgThe first thing I ever read of Hilary Mantel’s was her short story about the fictitious (some would say ‘sadly’) assassination of Margaret Thatcher called, quite obviously, ‘The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher’, which appeared in full in one of the Sunday magazines.  I loved it.  And I’d never even thought about reading any of her historical fiction before, because history really isn’t my bag; I had a terrible time in  O-Level History lessons and to this day remain bemused and confused over why  I spent 2 years of my educative life learning things about Hitler and Treaties that I still don’t understand the relevance of. And yes, I know that we all need to know a little of our history, but please why do we (STILL) have to focus on such disastrous times – why can’t we learn about late 20th Century histories like UK Prime Ministers and The Miners Strikes and the Irish Troubles?  Let’s be a bit more relevant can’t we?).

So anyway, it was with a little trepidation that I picked up this book in our local hospice shop.  But once I’d read the inside jacket cover:

Opening in 1995 with ‘As Second Home’, Mantel describes the death of her stepfather, a death which leaves her deeply troubled by the unresolved events of childhood.  ‘Not Geoffrey, Don’t Torment Her’, begins in typical gripping Mantel fashion: ‘Two of my relatives have died by fire.’  Set during the 1950s, it takes the reader into the muffled consciousness of her early childhood, culminating with the birth of a younger brother and the strange candlelit ceremony of her mother’s ‘churching’.  Mantel then moves to a haunted house and mysteriously gains a stepfather…… […]The author reveals how, through, medical misunderstandings and neglect, she came to be childless, and how the ghosts of the unborn, like chances missed or pages unturned, have come to haunt her as a writer.


And so, because I seem to be forever searching for some kind of writerly connection with any other writer (this is usually the basis of my daily prevarication and procrastination at the keyboard) I had to read Hilary’s story – especially for the hint of ghosts and the misunderstandings and the general feeling of ‘things not quite right’ about her world – with which I felt I might be able to empathise.

Beautifully (understandably) described and simply stated, the book is an emotional journey told through the eyes of a young and confused Hilary, through the troubled and painful adolescent/young adult years where her undiagnosed Endometriosis left her unable to have children and physically/mentally altered for life,  ‘Giving up the Ghost’ is a perfect read.  It’s revealing without being over-sentimental and I enjoyed finding out about the past and the pains of one of the finest writers of our day.

It hasn’t encouraged me to read Wolf Hall or Bring up the Bodies, but it has made me realise that we are all (successful authors included; perhaps even especially) damaged in some way or another – and these sometimes unnaturally occurring phenomena shape the peculiar successes we reap in our lives one way or another.

9/10. A lovely, moving insight into a great writer’s life.




About debscooper

I read, I write, I tweet, I blog and I avoid housework whenever I can.


4 thoughts on “#BookReview ‘Giving up the Ghost’ by Hilary Mantel

  1. A very interesting blog Deborah. You have definitely peaked my interest so I’ll probably get it now. I like history very much but I’m afraid I did find her Wolf hall hard going and had several attempts at it before giving up. Having said that, I thoroughly enjoyed the televised version. If I like this one I may have another look at her early works.
    On another note, can you tell me how you make a ‘link’ like the one you have done for the book? I only know how to copy and paste the URL. A bit of a dummy really.

    Liked by 1 person

    Posted by carole925 | May 25, 2016, 7:10 am
    • Carole, thanks for reading and taking the time to comment. I think we may have recorded Wolf Hall (I’m not sure – there’re so many dramas we have to catch up with that I forget what’s what) but I definitely have a blind spot where historical reading is concerned and I’ve no idea why.
      To make the links to text (as I’ve done above with the ‘Assassination of Margaret Thatcher’ and ‘Giving up the Ghost’, open up a new window with the piece you want to link to, and highlight the url along the address bar – as you already know how to do – and then go back to the blog post page you’re writing and find the ‘link’ icon (it looks like two chain links) which will open up another little window asking you to insert the url to be linked to. Paste it in and you’re away. I always go back and make sure to click on the link I’ve linked to (overuse of the word ‘link’ 😉 ) just to make sure it works properly.
      Hope I’ve explained it ok 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      Posted by debsriccio | May 25, 2016, 10:19 am
  2. Thanks, Deborah. Explained perfectly. I hope you get around to watching Wolf Hall on your recordings. It is definitely worth it.


    Posted by carole925 | May 26, 2016, 7:34 am

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