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A daily record of what I'm thinking about what I'm reading

To read about movies and TV shows I'm watching, visit my other blog: Elliot's Watching

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Don't know much about history: But surprised how much I like Mantel's story in NYTBR

I was not a big fan of Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall, which I found to be tedious and weirdly opaque, so didn't read the sequel - but many people loved both esp the English, awarding her a unique back-to-back Man Booker Prize - suspect she tells English history to the English to the way they like to hear it. And now she's been anointed by the NYTBR - seems to me the first time the NYTBR has run a short story (in lieu of review?) or at least at that length - hey, why even bother to review books, let's just run a piece of them and let readers figure it out for themselves. All that said: I was surprised at how much I enjoyed reading the story, The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher. I have no idea whether this story is based on any actual historic events - was there a conspiracy or even attempt on her life? Not that I recall - but Mantel uses her historic and narrative skills here along with her imagination to create a very tense and tight narrative: Thatcher, in '83, is in a hospital for some minor surgery; media crowds around the area - I don't know if it's real London neighborhood or something Mantel has concocted - in typical English-lit fashion there are a thousand evocative place names strewn about - Spinner's Row, et al - but in any event: the woman narrator goes up to her 3rd-floor flat, which overlooks the hospital grounds; a guy knocks on her door - she's expecting a repair man - and she lets him in, and he coolly begins to set up a rifle and scope in the window. Interestingly and surprisingly, the woman is not frightened, and in fact she, too, despises Thatcher but not to the point of assassination. As only the English will, she ends up making him a pot of tea! The story is very tense and build right up to the facts ascertained in the title - although it leaves us hanging as the narrative shuts downright before the fatal denouement. We are left wondering: what became of the assassin? And more important: of the woman? Would the police believe she was held hostage? She is, in some ways, practically an accomplice - albeit unwillingly. Very good story with lots of questions in its wake; shows me for sure that Mantel can write a taut and tense historic narrative if she wants to, so why was Wolf Hall so mannered?

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