As she approaches midlife, Mantel applies her beautiful prose and expansive vocabulary to a somewhat meandering memoir. The English author of eight novels (The Giant, O'Brien; Eight Months on Ghazzah Street; etc.) is "writing in order to take charge of the story of my childhood and my childlessness; and in order to locate myself... between the lines where the ghosts of meaning are." Among the book's themes are ghosts and illness, both of which Mantel has much experience with. She expends many pages on her earliest years, and then on medical treatments in her 20s, but skips other decades almost entirely as she brings readers up to the present. At age seven she senses a horrifying creature in the garden, which as a Catholic she concludes is the devil; later, houses she lives in have "minor poltergeists." The first and foremost ghost, though, is the baby she will never have. By 20, Mantel is in constant pain from endometriosis, and at 27, after years of misdiagnosis and botched treatment, she has an operation that ends her fertility. Her pains come back, she has thyroid problems and drug treatments cause her body to balloon; she describes these ordeals with remarkably wry detachment. Fans of Mantel's critically acclaimed novels may enjoy the memoir as insight into her world. Often, though, all the fine detail that in another work would flesh out a plot—such as embroidery silk "the scarlet shade of the tip of butterflies' wings"—has nowhere to go. (Oct. 8)
Forecast: Although this won't win Mantel new readers—though beautifully written, it lacks a coherent story line—fans of
Eight Months on Ghazzah Street and
A Change of Climate, which were very well received, may want to pick this up.