Mantel, Hilary 1952-

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Mantel, Hilary 1952-

(Hilary Mary Mantel)


Born July 6, 1952, in Derbyshire, England; married Gerald McEwen (a geologist), September 23, 1972. Education: Attended London School of Economics and Political Science, 1970; University of Sheffield, Jur.B., 1973.


Agent— A.M. Heath & Co Ltd., 6 Warwick Court, Holborn, London WC1R 5DJ, England.


Novelist. Worked in a variety of jobs, including salesperson and social worker in a geriatric hospital. and Lived and worked in Botswana as a secondary school teacher, 1977-82; lived and worked in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, 1983-86.


British Society of Authors.


Shiva Naipaul Memorial Prize for travel writing, 1987; fellow, Royal Society of Literature, 1990; Cheltenham Festival Prize, Southern Arts Literary Prize, and Winifred Holtby Award, all 1990, all for Fludd; Sunday Express Book of the Year award, 1992, for A Place of Greater Safety; Hawthornden Prize, 1999, for The Giant, O'Brien; Mind Book of the Year Award, 2005, for Giving up the Ghost; Commander of the Order of the British Empire, 2006.



Every Day Is Mother's Day, Chatto & Windus (London, England), 1985, Holt (New York, NY), 2000.

Vacant Possession, Chatto & Windus (London, England), 1986, Holt (New York, NY), 2000.

Eight Months on Ghazzah Street, Viking (London, England), 1988, Holt (New York, NY), 1997.

Fludd, Viking (London, England), 1989, Viking (New York, NY), 2000.

A Place of Greater Safety, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1993.

A Change of Climate, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1994.

An Experiment in Love, Holt (New York, NY), 1996.

The Giant, O'Brien, Holt (New York, NY), 1998.

Beyond Black, Holt (New York, NY), 2005.


Learning to Talk: Short Stories, Fourth Estate (London, England), 2003.

Giving Up the Ghost (memoir), Holt (New York, NY), 2003.

Contributor to Best Short Stories of 1987, Heinemann (London, England), 1987, The Best of Best Short Stories 1986-95, Minerva, 1995, and The Daily Telegraph Book of Contemporary Short Stories, 1995. Film critic for Spectator, 1987-91. Contributor of short stories and reviews to periodicals, including London Magazine, London Review of Books, Literary Review, New York Review of Books, New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and Encounter.


A favorite of many readers in Great Britain since 1985, Hilary Mantel was relatively unknown in North America until the publication of her 1998 novel, The Giant, O'Brien, and the release, in the United States, of such acclaimed earlier works as Every Day Is Mother's Day, Fludd, and Vacant Possession. Reviewing Mantel's 2000 novel, Fludd, Sally E. Parry noted in Review of Contemporary Fiction that Mantel's prose is striking and witty, especially when the out of the ordinary happens. Her vision of the world is bleakly humorous and allows for the possibility, however remote, of a kind of grace. Mantel became the third woman to win the coveted Hawthornden Prize in eighty years when she was awarded it in 1999 for The Giant, O'Brien.

Born in a small town in the north of England, Mantel did not set out to be a writer; indeed, "I was the first person in my family to go to university," she explained to Publishers Weekly interviewer Jean Richardson. "And in my teens I believed I could do anything." Mantel studied law at the London School of Economics, but eschewed a career in politics to take a job as a social worker. When she realized she wanted to pursue writing, Mantel began to seek out quiet places to contemplate and create. One favorite spot was in a department store where she worked. Mantel would bunker down in "the sheepskin department in August," as she related to Richardson. "I was left alone for hours and hours and I could form up my sentences and marshal my thoughts." The budding author set a big goal for herself: an epic novel set in Revolutionary France.

Mantel's marriage to geologist Gerald McEwen took her to Botswana, where she taught in an elementary school and treasured the isolation as an environment for writing. With the French Revolution story stalled, Mantel decided to try something more contemporary in theme, and eventually found a publisher for her debut novel, Every Day Is Mother's Day.

Every Day Is Mother's Day was greeted enthusiastically by British critics, London Magazine contributor John Mellors providing a typical assessment in calling Mantel's literary debut "an accomplished novel of striking originality." Based loosely on the author's experiences, Every Day Is Mother's Day follows Isabel, a young social worker who takes on the case of a mentally retarded girl who lives with her emotionally disturbed mother. At once a "simple black comedy" and "a savage satire on social services" in the view of Daily Mail reviewer Auberon Waugh, Every Day Is Mother's Day depicts "one of the bleakest commentaries on contemporary English life I have every read." The Daily Mail columnist went on to herald the author as a major new talent.

Mantel followed Every Day Is Mother's Day with a sequel, Vacant Possession. The 1986 novel takes place ten years later as the now-grown daughter, Muriel, is released from a mental institution and bent on wreaking revenge on a variety of victims, including social worker Isabel. The novel, stated Danise Hoover in Booklist, "will make you laugh, but you won't feel comfortable about it."

Mantel increased her literary stature with several more novels, including A Place of Greater Safety, a French Revolution tale that took "book of the year" honors in England. 1994's A Change of Climate focuses on an altrusitic couple who pick up the lost causes of a myriad of urban down-and-outers. As James Barron explained in his New Statesman & Society review, "Mantel takes as her theme the opposing forces of free will and fate wondering if we do have any control over our destiny or whether it is set down by some malicious divinity." Calling the novel "ambitious," Barron added that the work contained structural problems that made its outcome predictable. A critic for Publishers Weekly had a different take, calling the novel "beautifully written but high-strung," and praising Mantel for her "subtle foreshadowings" and "suspense to spare."

An Experiment in Love follows a young woman from her modest Lancashire upbringing to her student years at London University, where she rejects her working-class background. Dubbing Mantel's style "dry" and "ironical," Booklist reviewer Joanne Wilkinson added that An Experiment in Love "captures the pressure-cooker atmosphere of an elite university and the indelible bonds imposed by social class." "Irony prevails stoutly over sentimentality," added a Publishers Weekly critic of the 1996 novel, "while the finale delivers a surprising twist of horror that will shake readers to the core.

Mantel's 1998 historical novel, The Giant, O'Brien, is set in eighteenth-century London and based on actual events. Charles O'Brien, a man of extraordinary height and great ambition, arrives from Ireland to seek his fortune as a showman. The public is initially entranced by "the Giant," but as the novelty wears off, O'Brien's prospects dwindle and his health begins to fail. Into the picture comes physician John Hunter. Hunter, "obsessed with anatomical dissection and experimentation," according to a Booklist review, recognizes a fatal condition in O'Brien, and sets his own agenda to possess O'Brien's remains after the Giant dies.

More than one critic saw a deeper theme in The Giant, O'Brien: The author, said Richardson, "makes no concessions to the reader, who is asked to accompany the giant—a metaphor for the Irish body politic—on a journey through the squalor of Georgian London. He is a storyteller, a touching, childlike freak who finds that his immense height is only a five-minute wonder, and that he is worth more dead than alive. Underlying the story is the conflict between England and Ireland, between poetry and materialism."

The Giant, O'Brien "demands to be read … like a fable," remarked an Economist critic, "for while it roots around in the stench and swill of life, it is at the same time a highly figurative tale about truth versus fact, about meaning, and the power of language both to carry and destroy it." Mantel, the article concluded, "is herself a demonstration of her novel's theme, with an ear worthy of her giant."

In her 2003 memoir, Giving Up the Ghost, Mantel details her childhood in Britain during the 1950s and 1960s and documents her decade-long struggle with undiagnosed endometriosis, which left her unable to have children. Calling the book "extraordinary," an Economist reviewer remarked that Mantel "catches the very essence of the growing child, the small sharp-eyed observer in the corner of the room who is herself ignored and not explained to, and carries that persona through—as we all do—to her years of ostensible maturity." New Statesman contributor Carmen Calill concurred, labelling the memoir a "masterpiece" and adding, "commenting on a book as good as this requires firm control over superlatives."

In her 2005 novel, Beyond Black, Mantel extends the imagery of the "ghosts" in her memoir by exploring the world of psychics. Recently divorced Colette meets a clairvoyant, Alison, and gradually becomes an integral part of her life and her work. The two women negotiate a tricky line between the personal and professional, with Alison attempting to help Colette rid herself of a pesky ghost. Critics remarked on the humor and intelligence on display in Mantel's writing. A Publishers Weekly reviewer noted that "this witty, matter-of-fact look at the psychic milieu reveals a supernatural world that can be as mundane as the world of carpet salesmen and shopkeepers," while a Kirkus Reviews contributor called the novel "superbly odd, but still superb." New Statesman reviewer Amanda Craig, while agreeing that the novel is "densely written, with confidence and wit," felt that the characters were too unlikable and the portrayal too depressing. But D.J. Taylor, writing in the Spectator, praised Beyond Black as "relentless and at the same time wonderfully funny."



Booklist, May 1, 1996, Joanne Wilkinson, review of An Experiment in Love, p. 1488; October 15, 1998, Margaret Flanagan, review of The Giant, O'Brien, p. 404; February 15, 2000, p. 1081; April 15, 2000, James Klise, review of Fludd, p. 1524.

Daily Mail, March 28, 1985, Auberon Waugh, review of Every Day Is Mother's Day.

Economist, October 10, 1998, review of The Giant, O'Brien, p. 89; December 12, 1998, review of The Giant, O'Brien; September 27, 2003, review of Giving Up the Ghost, p. 84.

Kirkus Reviews, March 1, 2005, review of Beyond Black, p. 251.

Library Journal, April 15, 1996, Debbie Bogenschutz, review of An Experiment in Love, p. 123; July, 1997, Ann H. Fisher, review of A Change of Climate, p. 126; February 15, 2000, Barbara Love, review of Vacant Possession, p. 197.

London Magazine, March, 1985, John Mellors, review of Every Day Is Mother's Day.

New Statesman, May 30, 1986, Bill Greenwell, review of Vacant Possession, p. 27; September 15, 1989, review of Fludd, p. 34; September 4, 1992, Brian Morton, review of A Place of Greater Safety, p. 38; March 18, 1994, James Barron, review of A Change of Climate, p. 56; May 19, 2003, Carmen Callil, review of Giving Up the Ghost p. 48; May 16, 2005, Amanda Craig, review of Beyond Black, p. 55.

New York Review of Books, October 8, 1998, John Baylor, review of The Giant, O'Brien, p. 12.

New York Times Book Review, July 20, 1997, review of Eight Months on Ghazzah Street, p. 9; October 11, 1998, Walter Kendrick, review of The Giant, O'Brien, p. 9.

Publishers Weekly, April 1, 1996, review of An Experiment in Love, p. 55; June 23, 1997, review of A Change of Climate, p. 69; July 14, 1997, review of Eight Months on Ghazzah Street, p. 64; July 13, 1998, review of The Giant, O'Brien, p. 60; October 5, 1998, Jean Richardson, "Hilary Mantel: The Novelist in Action," p. 60; January 31, 2000, review of Every Day Is Mother's Day, p. 81; April 3, 2000, review of Fludd, p. 60; April 11, 2005, review of Beyond Black, p. 34.

Review of Contemporary Fiction, spring, 2001, Sally E. Parry, review of Fludd, p. 207.

Spectator, September 5, 1992, Nigel Spivey, review of A Place of Greater Safety, p. 30; March 26, 1994, Anita Brookner, review of A Change of Climate, p. 34; March 4, 1995, Anita Brookner, review of An Experiment in Love, p. 36; May 7, 2005, D.J. Taylor, review of Beyond Black, p. 52.

Times Literary Supplement, June 20, 1986, review of Vacant Possession, p. 682; August 28, 1992, David Coward, review of A Place of Greater Safety, p. 17; March 25, 1994, Peter Kemp, review of A Change of Climate, p. 19; February 24, 1995, Julia O'Faolain, review of An Experiment in Love, p. 22; September 4, 1998, David Nokes, review of The Giant, O'Brien, p. 10.

World Literature in Review, fall, 1999, Mary Kaiser, review of The Giant, O'Brien, p. 737.