Beyond Black
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Beyond Black

3.38 of 5 stars 3.38  ·  rating details  ·  2,739 ratings  ·  382 reviews

A New York Times Notable Book of the Year


Colette and Alison are unlikely cohorts: one a shy, drab beanpole of an assistant, the other a charismatic, corpulent psychic whose connection to the spiritual world torments her. When they meet at a fair, Alison invites Colette at once to join her on the road as her personal assistant and companion. Troubles spiral out of control w...more
Paperback, 432 pages
Published April 18th 2006 by Picador (first published 2005)
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Melki
It's raw, this kind of work, and near the knuckle: unsupported by music, lighting, video screen, it's just you and them and the dead, the dead who may oblige or may not, who may confuse and mislead and laugh at you, who may give you bursts of foul language very close up to your ear, who may give you false names and lay false trails just to see you embarrassed.

Alison is a medium and a consummate performer. She soothes her audience, gains their trust and even shuts down hecklers with a few well ch...more
Kinga
Oh god. Where do I even begin? Lots of reviewers complained they didn't know where the book was going. Well, I didn't know either, but I thought it was a good thing. Don't you just love when you don't know where the book is going?

'Beyond Black' was going in all sorts of directions at once. It was a story about Alison, a medium, who can see and talk to ghosts and also happens to be very fat. It was a story about her obnoxious, nasty assistant cum manager (who weirdly reminded me of my very own a...more
Paul
Intermittently funny, sad, tragic, malicious and rather ghoulish novel; good in parts, but overlong and repetitive. It is certainly well written; Mantel is a great writer, as Wolf Hall has shown. The plot meanders rather a lot and doesn't really go anywhere.
The premise is simple. Alison is a psychic/medium, a good one, but rather disorganised. Colette becomes her sidekick and PA and organises her life. The dead, however are less easy to organise. Here's the key to the book. The dead are no diff...more
Bill  Kerwin

There's a lot to recommend in this novel about a professional psychic--who really does see ghosts--plying her trade in the working class suburbs of London. The profession itself becomes an excellent metaphor for writing: the spirits though genuine are often difficult to discern, and even when discerned do not always appear when summoned, and therefore the medium is forced to make do with psychological manipulation, theatrical effects, and charlatanry. The relationship between Alison the psychic...more
Blair
Every time I told someone I was reading this book, they inevitably mentioned Wolf Hall, Mantel's most recent novel and winner of the 2009 Booker Prize, and tended to assume I'd chosen Beyond Black because I'd already read Wolf Hall. In fact, the latter doesn't interest me at all; I can't remember where I first saw Beyond Black, but it was the plot outline that drew me in - a black comedy about a professional psychic, her assistant, and the spirits that haunt them - along with a quote from Philip...more
Eliane
A page-turner. The first we've had for a while. By turns funny, ghastly and frightening. This book stayed with me, causing nightmares. The spirits inhabiting this world are thoroughly believable. I loved the conceit that just because a person is dead, it doesn't make what they have to say anymore interesting than when they were alive. I also loved the commercial world of the mediums with charlatans and everyone trying to make a quick buck. Some parts made me laugh out loud. Also thoroughly Dicke...more
Fionnuala
This is the third book by Mantel that I've read and I'm very struck by how different it is from the other two. There's almost no common ground except her tendency to slip back and forth between the two main characters' points of view constantly, even sometimes within the same paragraph. The subject matter is fascinating and as usual, very well researched. I did wonder at times how she planned to wrap it up - it is a bit shapeless in the middle - but the end is suitably fitting.
Jayne Charles
There was a point, around about chapter 9, when I was sure this book and I were going part company. The plot headed off in strange directions, and it was like chasing shadows along dark alleyways. Up to that point the story, involving a medium and her business partner, had been illuminating, quite funny and very entertaining. But there is a darker side to this novel and its grip on the plot increased as the pages turned. It is an odd mix – lighthearted banter with the shadow of grim events in a...more
Tim
Jul 02, 2008 Tim rated it 4 of 5 stars
Shelves: own
Well, I thought Everyday is Mother's Day was dark. Wow! There are some parallels between those two books as well. A character in Everyday is Mother's Day is haunted by ghosts, just as Allison, the main character in this novel is haunted. At first it seems a straight up ghost story, but don't be fooled. Gradually Allison begins to uncover the connection between the ghosts she sees and her traumatic past. I liked that approach to her problems. It made them more interesting and more mysterious. I...more
Chris
This is one of those books. You know those books, the ones that aren't bad, but aren't good, but you're not entirely upset you read, but they don't really inspire you to find anything more by the author.

(Thankfully, I already Wolf Hall so I know she can do better).

It's one of those books that you know could be better if something, but you're not sure what, was better or different. Yet, you feel like your stupid and not quite getting it. Until you realize The New York Times took ages to reveiw Na...more
S.A.
Beyond Black is an uneven book that doesn't seem to know what it wants to be when it grows up. The main character, a genuine psychic names Alison, is a character you develop great sympathy for during the story. The storyline following how she unravels the questions about her tormented childhood is creepy and fascinating. She seeks to discover why dead people haunt her, especially a gang of wretched characters she calls "fiends" who act determined to make her life miserable.

The main problem the s...more
Christine
Major Spoiler Alert! Don't read this if you haven't read the book. I enjoyed Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, so I was looking forward to reading Beyond Black. I had to give the book just three stars, though, because it was very hard to get through; the characters and tone were depressing and unremittingly unpleasant. That said, its complexity kept me going. At first I took at face value that the psychic, Alison, was surrounded by evil, low-life, interfering ghosts from her abused and poverty-...more
Philip
In her novel Beyond Black, Hilary Mantel presents a series of characters who ought to be Mr and Mrs, or Uncle and Auntie Normal. They all live near the M25, London’s orbital motorway and inhabit places as interesting as Slough, Maidenhead and Uxbridge. Even distant Essex gets a mention. But many of these people aren’t normal, or average, or even alive, for that matter. Many of them are in fact the dreaded four-letter d-word, the word that the book’s principal character prefers not to say out lou...more
Frank Ryan
It isn't the sort of book I would normally read, though I read quite widely, like most authors. I don't believe in clairvoyance, or mediums, or ghosts, or anything of that arcane nature. But Hilary Mantel is a very good writer and she kind of seduces you into this most peculiar world. In essence this is a kind of ghost story. It is a very different ghost story from any other I have read. The two main characters, Alison Hart -- the obese but kindly and likeable medium -- and her strait-laced not...more
Badly Drawn Girl

I'm having a hard time rating this book. I realized about 3/4 of the way through that I was still waiting for the story to begin. I couldn't believe I was almost finished with the book and yet in many ways it felt like I was still reading introductory chapters. I don't know if the plot was just too loose for me, or what. I did enjoy reading this book. I thought it had a lot of interesting characters and the author was able to strike a nice balance between sadness and laughter. But in many ways i...more
russell barnes
The word on the street in SW14 was this was almost unreadable compared to Wolf Hall, mainly I suspect because rather than dealing with the infinitely more fashionable machinations of the Tudor court, Beyond Black is a grim, brutish helterskelter through dystopian Aldershot, with two people you don't really like.

They got it half right: it is grim, brutish and bleak, the two central characters, Alison and Colette, aren't exactly laugh a minute, and I'm willing to argue Aldershot is fairly dystopia...more
Laurie
This novel is both horrifying and maliciously funny. Alison –Al- Hart, overweight medium, is making a good living, giving private readings and doing psychic fairs, but is always alone- at least, where living people are concerned. She can never escape from the dead, who follow her and bother her constantly. And here’s the thing: people don’t get any smarter or nicer when they die. They don’t undergo any spiritual awakening. If they were nasty and mean in life, that’s how they are in death. Al, su...more
Ruthiella
This book is relentless, like winding up a malevolent jack-in-the-box, never knowing when the f***er is going to spring on you. The pace is slow, teasing really; the story often cryptic and elusive. Allison is a medium, no faker, the real deal. Only, it isn’t glamorous or even particularly useful. She can’t do lotto numbers or see into the future, but she can hear the dead, and what a clamorous, mostly nasty bunch they are. She takes on Colette as her manager to help her run her business, especi...more
Dox
This book doesn't have much in the way of plot, although some revelations about the main character's past are finally gotten to by the end of the book, after 400 pages of hinting. The characters were interesting for a while, but the slowness of the story moving forward makes the reader tired of them. Also, tired of all the secondary characters. And almost every character in the book is nasty and unpleasant in some way. In a lot of ways, the book is very brutal and grotesque, and bloody and gross...more
Holly
Jan 18, 2014 Holly added it
Shelves: 2012-reads
This is the first Mantel I've read since the late 1990s when I discovered Eight Months on Ghazzah Street, A Change of Climate, and An Experiment in Love. (I'll get to the Wolf Hall-business at some point.) Here we have two eccentric English ladies (and a foul-mouthed dwarf spook), and sometimes the relationship between the women reminded me of a marriage. For example this exchange, when one character retracts a suggestion she's made to the other, since the other keeps insisting she can't take it...more
Christopher Mcquain
Laurel and Hardy. Patsy and Edina. And now Alison and Colette, of Hilary Mantel's bitterly hilarious novel Beyond Black. Alison is a mild-mannered, overweight clairvoyant, or medium, or some kind of person who can be in touch with the Spirit World and has thus made that her vocation, never mind how tacky it is. Colette is a literal-minded, grimly upwardly-mobile divorcée who takes over Alison's business affairs. This very odd couple's misadventures take place in a meticulously described world of...more
Paula
‘Beyond Black’ is the story of Alison Hart, a pleasant and happy woman, who is psychic, she travels around various places passing messages to relatives, on her travels she meets Colette, a strong and recently independent woman who believes she may be psychic but is also skeptical of Alison at the same time. Alison offers Colette a job as her assistant, which Colette accepts and so begins their partnership of 7 years, where Colette slowly realises that there is more than meets the eye to Alison,...more
Eliza
Feb 08, 2013 Eliza rated it 4 of 5 stars
Shelves: novel
2/8/2013: A challenging novel, but for me, Mantel's rich and compelling writing makes up for any frustration brought on by the story's complexities and confusions. Alison Hart works as a medium, a communicator between her customers and those who are "beyond black", or "airside" (she avoids saying "dead). While to her customers this might seem a glamorous job, for Alison it is stressful to the point of incapacity. She is obese, she suffers multiple physical ailments (which the doctor assumes stem...more
Michael
Beyond Black is a complete success... but that doesn't mean every, or even most readers will find the book better than merely average. Personally, I fall in the category of "most." I liked the novel, I admired the writing, but I never felt engaged.

Remember back, long ago, when in grade school we'd watch film strips? I remember feeling disappointment when the teacher would roll out the film strip machine instead of the movie projector. Why? The moving pictures, not the series of still lifes, I fo...more
Audrey
After thinking about the book for a couple of days, I'm giving it 4 stars.

p. 155: "The lucky opals were occluded, steaming, as if their surfaces were secreting. There are things you need to know about the dead, she wanted to say. Things you really ought to know. For instance, it's no good trying to enlist them for any good cause you have in mind, world peace or whatever. Because they'll only bugger you about. They're not reliable. They'll pull the rug from under you. They don't become decent peo...more
Madeline
This is a new Hilary Mantel experience for me, I say as if I am such an expert in Hilary Mantel (I am not). I've read A Place of Greater Safety and Wolf Hall, which are both large historical novels and both overwhelmingly about men. Beyond Black, by contrast, is a contemporary novel with magical-realist elements (I know people say that magical-realism and fantasy are basically the same, that distinguishing between the two is genre snobbism, butttt the two genres never seem to have that much in c...more
Mark
This has to be one of the worst books I have ever had the misfortune to read! I read this book for a book group, and not one of us who was there had anything good to say about it, no plot, characters were badly written, can't believe this was written by the same person who wrote Wolf Hall. Would have given this book no stars if I could, do not read this book at any cost!
Louise
Jun 24, 2007 Louise rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: anyone
About a psychic medium and her traumatic life. 'Beyond black' is how she refers to the afterlife, the details of which she keeps secret from her public because it would upset them too much. Her banal life of being overweight, eating leaky sandwiches at motorway service stations and moving into in a 'new build' is undercut by the presence of her appalling spirit guide Morris. He lives in curtains and draining boards and likes playing with himself. Colette, her assitant, is aggressive and stony fa...more
Julia
Aug 31, 2009 Julia added it
Shelves: fiction
Strange and slow, but I understood its slowness, I think. I also understand why this doesn't work for everyone. I liked (although perhaps like is the wrong word) the dead, residing in mouldy draining boards, soil and recordings. The concept of the afterlife as a sort of unnerving dream struck a chord with me. I also liked the glorious, hilarious, awful mundanity of Mantel's England - some of the descriptions are breathtaking. This book doesn't let you forget ringroads, service stations, retail p...more
Georgette
The story of a clairvoyant who does shows to try to spread her word- and her assistant. This book is unlike any I had read, meaning you are enraptured enough by the odd relationship between the two leads to keep on reading, despite the fact that there's no real connection between the two. The characters are very well written, but the situations they are in, even for England, seem to be somewhat contrived.

I love Hilary Mantel's writing. Wolf Hall, by far one of the best historical novels I've eve...more
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What's The Name o...: Oddly well written novel about a British medium [s] 3 29 Mar 04, 2014 01:26AM  
*spoiler* for those of you who have read it... 3 57 Aug 26, 2013 11:46AM  
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Hilary Mary Mantel, née Thompson was born in Glossop, Derbyshire, England on 6 July 1952. She studied Law at the London School of Economics and Sheffield University. She was employed as a social worker, and lived in Botswana for five years, followed by four years in Saudi Arabia, before returning to Britain in the mid-1980s. In 1987 she was awarded the Shiva Naipaul Memorial Prize for an article a...more
More about Hilary Mantel...
Wolf Hall (Thomas Cromwell, #1) Bring Up the Bodies (Thomas Cromwell, #2) A Place of Greater Safety Wolf Hall / Bring Up the Bodies Fludd

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“At some point on your road you have to turn and start walking back towards yourself. Or the past will pursue you, and bite the nape of your neck, leave you bleeding in the ditch. Better to turn and face it with such weapons as you possess.” 6 likes
“The world beyond the glass is the world of masculine action. Everything she sees is what a man has built. But at each turn-off, each junction, women are waiting to know their fate.” 2 likes
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