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Diary

Hilary Mantel: Hilary Mantel meets her stepfather, 23 October 2003

... swivels on her heels, smiling into their faces. She is saying to everybody, guess who I saw, Jack Mantel, Jack Mantel. She indicates me and says I was embarrassing about the Methodists; she flutters that she hopes Jack Mantel was not offended, for ‘they’re chapel, aren’t ...

Terminus

Hilary Mantel, 22 May 1997

... On 9 January, shortly after eleven on a dark sleety morning, I saw my dead father on a train pulling out of Clapham Junction, bound for Waterloo. I glanced away, not recognising him at once. We were on parallel tracks. When I looked back, the train had picked up speed, and carried him away. My mind at once moved ahead, to the concourse at Waterloo Station, and the meeting which I felt sure must occur ...

The Way to Glory

Hilary Mantel, 3 March 1988

Chinese Lives: An Oral History of Contemporary China 
by Zhang Xinxin and Sang Ye, edited by W.J.F. Jenner and Delia Davin.
Macmillan, 367 pp., £14.95, February 1988, 0 333 43364 5
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... The Great Wall is the symbol of our nation,’ says one of the speakers in this extraordinary book. ‘It’s falling to pieces, ruined by people and by the elements like a dragon hacked apart.’ China is accessible now, in one sense: you can go on a tour. No doubt the Chinese will develop new layers of opacity, and a souvenir culture to keep the West happy; there would be plenty of precedents ...

Surviving the Sixties

Hilary Mantel, 18 May 1989

Shoe: The Odyssey of a Sixties Survivor 
by Jonathan Guinness.
Century Hutchinson, 233 pp., £14.95, March 1989, 0 09 173857 1
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Lilly: Reminiscences of Lillian Hellman 
by Peter Feibleman.
Chatto, 364 pp., £14.95, February 1989, 0 7011 3441 0
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... Once upon a time there was a Tory grandee who owned a house on the Costa Brava. Venturing forth to an art gallery one day, who should he meet but a hippy. The hippy was a beautiful young lady, rather thin but very clean, and she was known to her friends as Shoe. Shoe had wandered in many lands, pursued various trades and callings, sampled most of the religions of the earth and most of its banned substances ...

Diary

Hilary Mantel: Bookcase Shopping in Jeddah, 30 March 1989

... When the Salman Rushdie affair broke, the first thing I thought of was the day we tried to buy a bookcase in Jeddah. Jeddah is Saudi Arabia’s most sophisticated, cosmopolitan city. Compared to the capital, Riyadh, it is liberal and lively. It is also of course very rich. Its shopping malls, with their icy airconditioning, are temples of marble and glass, of lush greenery and tinkling fountains ...

Number One Id

Hilary Mantel: Idi Amin (Dada), 19 March 1998

The Last King of Scotland 
by Giles Foden.
Faber, 330 pp., £9.99, March 1998, 0 571 17916 9
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... When in the mid-Eighties I lived in the port of Jeddah in Saudi Arabia, I lived in a city policed by gossip and run by rumour. While its citizens, flapping in white robes and black veils and wrappings, glided through the streets like formal ghosts, its guest-workers crept through their contracts, guided by intuitions as evanescent and mysterious as those of spiritualists ...

Women in Pain

Hilary Mantel, 21 April 1988

Women and Love. The New Hite Report: A Cultural Revolution in Progress 
by Shere Hite.
Viking, 922 pp., £14.95, February 1988, 0 670 81927 1
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... Scribble, scribble, scribble, Ms Hite: another damned, thick, square book. Shere Hite is a ‘cultural historian’. She has already given us The Hite Report: A Nationwide Study of Female Sexuality and The Hite Report on Male Sexuality. Her work is an uneasy blend of prurience and pedantry; an attenuated blonde woman with curious white make-up, she has offended US feminists by making money out of sisterhood ...

Pointing Out the Defects

Hilary Mantel, 22 December 1994

Under My Skin 
by Doris Lessing.
HarperCollins, 419 pp., £20, October 1994, 9780002555456
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... Perhaps it is the timing of her birth which has refined her sense of scale, has made her able to see how the single ant works and worries in the social heap. ‘That was important,’ Doris Lessing says: to be born in 1919, when 29 million people died in the influenza pandemic. Important, too, the blue marks left on her face by the forceps. She was a child of damage, ‘one of the walking wounded ...

Faraway Train

Hilary Mantel, 23 January 1997

Flickerbook 
by Leila Berg.
Granta, 256 pp., £15.99, January 1997, 1 86207 004 0
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... The title of this writer’s autobiography is taken from Easy-to-Make Old-Fashioned Toys. ‘Flip-books, or Flickerbooks ... a series of sequential pictures or photographs put on separate pieces of paper, one after the other. When the book was flipped quickly through, the pictures would provide the illustration of a moving picture.’ Thatword ‘illustration’ ought, surely, to be ‘illusion ...

Ultra-Sophisticated

Hilary Mantel, 7 December 1989

Life Lines: Politics and Health 1986-1988 
by Edwina Currie.
Sidgwick, 291 pp., £13.95, November 1989, 0 283 99920 9
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My Turn 
by Nancy Reagan and William Novak.
Weidenfeld, 384 pp., £15.95, October 1989, 0 297 79677 1
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Heiress: The Story of Christina Onassis 
by Nigel Dempster.
Weidenfeld, 180 pp., £12.95, October 1989, 0 297 79671 2
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... Edwina had her date with destiny on 10 September 1986. A TV crew were camped outside her house in her Derbyshire constituency, and were shining lights through the windows. Edwina waited for the phone to ring. When it did, it was a man’s voice, telling her to get along without delay to Downing Street. ‘And so, into my battered Maestro... ’ – a nice populist touch there ...

Eunice’s Story

Hilary Mantel, 20 October 1994

The Unredeemed Captive: A Family Story from Early America 
by John Demos.
Knopf, 325 pp., $25, July 1994, 0 394 55782 4
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... The Indians attacked in the dead of winter, before dawn. The first the minister knew of it was the sound of axes breaking open his windows and doors. Moments later, twenty painted savages were in his house. Bound and helpless, he watched them kill his six-year-old son, his new baby of six weeks and his black woman slave. This, properly discerned, is an incident from the War of the Spanish Succession ...

Homophobic

Hilary Mantel, 13 May 1993

Mary Renault: A Biography 
by David Sweetman.
Chatto, 352 pp., £18, April 1993, 0 7011 3568 9
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... It was Renault, pronounced Renolt, not as in the car: this is one of the many things her admirers will not have known about the low-profile, best-selling author of some of the most remarkable historical fiction of the century. David Sweetman met Mary Renault in 1981, when he interviewed her for the BBC; he had been under the spell of her books since he read them as ‘an awkward, insecure teenager ...

Looking back in anger

Hilary Mantel, 21 November 1991

Almost a Gentleman. An Autobiography: Vol. II 1955-66 
by John Osborne.
Faber, 273 pp., £14.99, November 1991, 0 571 16261 4
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... One of the more extraordinary revelations in A Better Class of Person, the first volume of John Osborne’s memoirs, was the fact that the author was proposed as the leading man in the 1948 film The Blue Lagoon. The teenage Osborne by his own account had a hollow chest and acne, and a loin cloth would not have shown these off to advantage; the opportunity to loll among the palms with Jean Simmons went to the Welsh actor Donald Houston ...

How long?

Hilary Mantel, 27 February 1992

The Literary Companion to Sex: An Anthology of Prose and Poetry 
edited by Fiona Pitt-Kethley.
Sinclair-Stevenson, 415 pp., £18, February 1992, 1 85619 127 3
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The Love Quest: A Sexual Odyssey 
by Anne Cumming.
Peter Owen, 200 pp., £15.50, November 1991, 9780720608359
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... Fiona Pitt-Kethley’s favourite novel is a 16th-century Chinese work called Chin P’ing Mei. This book, she believes, was written as an act of vengeance. The author imbued each of the 1600 pages of his manuscript with poison, and presented it to a politician against whom he had a grudge. He knew that the minister, who had a huge appetite for pornography, would lick and turn each page, and so do himself to death ...

Diary

Hilary Mantel: On Being a Social Worker, 11 June 2009

... Let us call her Ruby, because she had a name like that: old-fashioned, staid, anomalous. ‘I am known everywhere as sparrer,’ she said. We had sparrows enough and to spare in those days, but I couldn’t think of her as a cheery little bird. She was 16, with the face of a skull. She wrapped bony limbs around herself, bending stiff joints; she was always cold ...

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