Hilary Mantel's Phantoms
Colin Burrow on Bring Up the Bodies in the LRB, 7 June 2012:
The word 'haunting' is much abused, but is absolutely, almost literally, right for this book... At one time or another almost every character (except plain, prosaic Jane Seymour) sees something like a spectre. Thomas Cromwell’s dead children are present in the novel’s very first scene, in which their names are given to falcons who seem to carry their spirits. The supposed lovers of Anne Boleyn are said to pass through the royal palaces like spectres. Even Wyatt is at one point compared to a phantom, as his ‘well-dressed shade, silken, slides across the window, blocks the cold starlight. On your way, phantom.’ When Cromwell’s house is quiet ‘dead people walk about on the stairs.’
Mantel is of course past mistress of phantoms. The thing in the corner that isn’t quite there but nonetheless occupies the centre of your attention because it can’t really be there.
Hilary Mantel in the LRB, 4 November 2010:
Three or four nights after surgery – when, in the words of the staff, I have ‘mobilised’ – I come out of the bathroom and spot a circus strongman squatting on my bed. He sees me too; from beneath his shaggy brow he rolls a liquid eye. Brown-skinned, naked except for the tattered hide of some endangered species, he is bouncing on his heels and smoking furiously without taking the cigarette from his lips: puff, bounce, puff, bounce. What rubbish, I think, actually shouting at myself, but silently. This is a no-smoking hospital. It is impossible this man would be allowed in, to behave as he does. Therefore he’s not real, and if he’s not real I can take his space. As I get into bed beside him, the strongman vanishes. I pick up my diary and record him: was there, isn’t any more.