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An Experiment In Love

3.59 of 5 stars 3.59  ·  rating details  ·  940 ratings  ·  120 reviews
This novel tells of Carmel McCabe and her friends Karina and Julianne who leave their Lancashire convent schools for London University. Carmel soon learns that a lot will be needed to precipitate them all into the next stage of their lives.
Paperback, 250 pages
Published 1995 by Harper Perennial
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(showing 1-30 of 2,054)
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Anastasia Hobbet
Hilary Mantel never wastes a word, and it's only at the end of this brief book (as opposed to her Booker Prize-winning Wolf Hall, at 500-plus pages, anyway)that you realize how expertly she has woven every line and observation. She excels, in all her books, at the portrayal of not-so-likable people, and keeping the reader interested in them even as they're repelled. She said recently, when asked what advice she'd give to aspiring writers: "Drop the charm. Eat meat, drink blood." She means it.
This was a fine novel for me. The writing and the story telling are so bright and fast-moving I didn't want to put it down.

The tale follows Carmel from her girlhood through a demanding Catholic school for 11-18-years olds, and into her college times in London. There is plenty of flavoring in this this Irish-Catholic background, and in the sense of poverty of pocket book and ideas of some of the characters, in the class issues and and in the sense of the times and places that are vastly differen
Aug 09, 2010 Judy rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: readers who liked Wolf Hall

I was so enchanted by Wolf Hall that I resolved to read Hilary Mantel's other novels. I had not heard of her before Wolf Hall won the Booker Prize and I don't think she was very well-known in the United States previously, but is highly respected in England. She has published ten novels, An Experiment in Love being her seventh.

It is a sad, sad tale, very English and it reminded me of Anne Enright's The Gathering. Somehow, Mantel's writing just drags you into the hearts of her characters and kee
The writing in this short book captured and held me, even though the plot had little intrinsic interest for me. It's the experience of a working-class Catholic girl from the north of England being pushed into academic success by her ambitious mother in the late 1960s to 1970. It's a somber and sad first-person story, even though the narrator has reached, by the time of the writing, some form of happiness, integrity, and maturity. There are flashes everywhere of early feminism, social satire, Cat ...more
Sandra Lawson
An Experiment in Love is Carmel's story of her childhood somewhere near Manchester. She is educated at Catholic schools, earns a scholarship as a passport out of her working class background, and fetches up at university in London. Here she makes new friends from different classes and parts of the country, but fails to sever her ties with her school friends, who have joined her at the same hall of residence.

Carmel reflects back on her life, prompted by a newspaper article about a friend and form
This book is often compared to Muriel Spark's The Girls of Slender Means, including by the characters in the book itself!!! But, while there are structural and thematic similarities: a narrator form "the now" recalls her younger self living in a residence hall for young women, a tragedy that takes the life of one of said women, etc., I find Mantel's book to be much better. It is less fragmented in its points of view (Carmel is the sole narrator), Carmel has a back story that is much more develop ...more
I was gripped by this book and could hardly bear to put it down. The characters are so real (and clearly there is an element of autobiography in the central narrator). I don't want to put in any spoilers but suffice to say you get the feeling that it isn't going to end happily, and it doesn't. Hilary Mantel is a powerful writer and I found this book very satisfying indeed.
Jean Carlton
I first heard of Hilary Mantel in regards to her more recent awards for Wolf Hall and Bring up the Bodies, neither of which I have read at this point.
I found this book at a sale and thought I'd get a taste of her writing. I do like British authors in general and stories set there - and I found her to be an excellent writer. (which seems to be the most critical factor in my enjoying a book.) When you add the ability to create intriguing characters and a good storyline to fine prose, you have a wi
Mary Kay
I love this book. The restrictive school setting, brief poignant character sketches, and conclusion all remind me more than a little of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. The distance the narrator is able to maintain between herself and her childhood friend/acquaintance/enemy, Karina, is remarkable, and we don't see until the ending exactly why this distance is so necessary, because the narrator can't bring herself to spell it out. Karina's streak of malevolence is more than a little destructive. Hi ...more
Great fan of Hilary Mantel. But this is the novel she wrote before she tuned all her instruments. A coming of age story set in Lancashire and London about a girl set the task of overcoming her pinched and draconian background. Should be okay but it's not, not at all. In fact it's bloody boring. The comedy falls flat. The prose is overblown and heavy handed and the characters are just plain dull. This was a chore to read.
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
This haunting book brought to mind Peter Ackroyd's note on "The eternal present of the past."
Curiously, its tragic ending echoed that of one of my favorite books, "The Girls of Slender Means", by Muriel Spark. Similarly, as well, both address the moral issues arising from the tragedies.
Certainly, Experiment is very different from both "Wolf Hall" and "Bring up the Bodies" in tone, mood and period.
Recommended very highly.
Here is the NY Times review by Margaret Atwood:
Lynnett said to me, 'How very short your hair is! But it shows off your beautiful eyes.'
I could see that Julianne had also fallen in love. I think women carry this faculty into later life: the faculty for love, I mean. Men will never understand it till they stop confusing love with sex, which will be never. Even today, there are ten or twenty women I love: for a turn of phrase or wrist, for a bruised-looking ankle where the veins have blossomed out, for a squeeze of the hand or for a voice on
Mantel's Wolf Hall and Bring up the Bodies were so riveting, so beautifully crafted -- I missed them terribly when I finished them. To fill the void, I decided to embark on an all-Mantel/all-the-time summer. I liked Experiment in Love, but it certainly was not IMHO of the same caliber as the previously mentioned historical novels. Had I read it without the others as touchstones, I think I would have given this book a higher rating. The writing is wonderful, but the story never really engaged me. ...more
Katherine Hebert
Spot-on writing about young women in college in the 60s, away from home for the first time , pushed by parents who scrimped and saved so they could go to school and land a better life---somewhere between marriage and being the prime minister of England. Young women who have to figure out on their own how to live with birth control, sexual freedom, pregnancy, religion, anorexia, the inability to connect with parents, friendships, hatred, violence, and financial issues including starvation when th ...more
I read this book after reading the Booker prize behemouth "Wolf Hall," which I loved. This is set predominately in 1960s London at a girls college. It's wonderful and complicated and nuanced and slow (like "Wolf Hall," "An Experiment in Love" took me more time to read than its pages fully accounted for). It's a coming of age novel, but not a trite one. There are very dark angles that Mantel utilizes but never fully shines her light on. Which leaves the reader wondering "Was that fucked up? Or RE ...more
Loved it. Simple, elegant, absorbing. I want more books like this. And I love Hilary Mantel's writing. Indeed, my only gripe is that I could have happily read twice as much. I wanted more, more, more.

I liked Carmel's viewpoint - troubled, female, first person narrators being just what I'm generally looking for. And the imagery and descriptions were so vivid - Carmel's flower sweater that she creates, the fox fur, Karina's hairy sweaters that she washed by hand...hmm, maybe it was just the clothe
Grace Harwood
This is a good book and it's very readable, as you would expect from any work by Hilary Mantel. That said, it's definitely not her best work. The heroine, a young girl leaving home and going to University along with two of her schoolmates spends part of the time reflecting on her life and her troubled relationship with her childhood friend, Karina. The rest of the time is spent in starving herself and doing what ever else young people did in the 70s. I enjoyed the relationship aspect of the nove ...more
This review could be 20 paragraphs long, that's how personal a connection this novel had for me in reaction. More than just enjoyable, at least 1/2 was outright LOL, literally. The descriptive mastery! Not an easy read, as there are 4 comparative context metaphors or some kind of nuance allusion or allegory to a paragraph, but what an effect! Also despite being in another country, the absolutely identical cultural context issues to the time we experienced are just incredible. Like the paper fold ...more
This is a fairly decent novel and would be a good read for a book group. I really like this author's style even though as an American reader I miss some of her English phrases, terms, common article names, etc. It is worth reading her work if only to wait for the one or two observations that just crack you up. Strange but real thoughts.
This novel takes a young girl in England from grade school to upper college in London in the 60's. Carmel is an only child from a working-class Northern England h
Loved this poignant reminder of growing up in an environment which was familiar to me. Precise and detailed description helped to reinforce the characterisation of young women trying to make sense of their feelings and of the world around them. The ambivalence of the narrator towards the characters around her, strengthened rather than weakened the story. Firmly based in period.
Coming to this after the Thomas Cromwell novels, it's hard to believe that it's the same author. The scope of the later books is so large, and here it's so narrow. This is an honest, thoughtful book and the prose never falters, but that isn't enough, for me at least, to make up with the smallness of of the subject matter (growing up and going to university) or the limited interest and sympathy I found myself feeling for the characters. Within these limits, the novel is always sharp and perceptiv ...more
I had trouble with a few of Mantel's earlier books, especially the ones involving psychic phenomena. Knowing what I now know about her--her training as a solicitor, her very economical use of words in Learning to Talk and A Place of Greater Safety (ah I am wandering) I have a different viewpoint. I see that though she is a very practical and logically minded person, she has the ability (or curse) to see into that parallel world. So if I re-read those books I would no doubt feel differently about ...more
"You're only young once, they say, but doesn't it go on for a long time? More years than you can bear."

What was it like, being a female student in 1970?

Carmel, Karina and Julia are all at university in London together. They live in a Halls of Residence. None of them are very nice people. But I loved this book, loved the descriptions of the small Lancashire town they come from, of London, of hunger, of poverty, of convent education. It reminded me of The Bell Jar.

In chapter seven, Mantel writes
O retrato do ensino às mulheres num colégio católico nos anos 60 em Inglaterra. A luta pelo poder, os grupinhos das populares, das pobres, das góticas, das que já fazem sexo, a disputa pela atenção, a amizade entre grandes amigas, o ódio no ano escolar seguinte ou o desprezo no ambiente universitário.

Algumas frases que ficaram:
"I've not set foot in church since my schooldays - by the assumption that Catholics have easy lives: that they sin as and when and where they like, then pop into the con
Deborah Edwards
The three star rating is no reflection on the writing or the material. Mantel is a brilliant novelist, the kind who can convey a great deal with spare dialogue and a cleverly observed detail. It's just that I read her "Wolf Hall" first, and that book is such a masterpiece, that this intimate story seems a small book in comparison. It is almost as if a very good short story or novella had been expanded to fill the pagination requirements of a novel. The book concerns a group of female students in ...more
This is one of those books I think I should like, but I don't. I got to page 82, skipped to the end and that was that. I really can't (or shouldn't) fault Hilary Mantel's prose, or should I say "prosetry"? (poetic prose) She's got talent up the wazoo and there is no way I, a person of mediocre talent can in all honesty, dare to suggest she's a bad writer. I don't suggest she is a bad writer, but based on this book I sort of think she is. Technically, she's good, she's really, really good, but ea ...more
Pamela Scott
This was my first time reading An Experiment In Love.

I thought An Experiment In Love was great. I loved Mantel’s novel. I thought An Experiment In Love perfectly captured the experiences of Carmel and her friends growing up in the 70’s. Carmel was a great, sympathetic character. I liked the fact Mantel doesn’t make a huge deal of her eating disorder and writes about it as if it’s just an aspect of Carmel’s personality. In a way it was, to Carmel anyway and I thought Mantel handled it really well
This is a very different book from Mantel's award winning Wolf Hall. Where it is similar is in the rich detail with which she evokes-here the life of a (relatively) poor catholic girl from near Manchester, growing up in the 1960-70s and her ever-present "friend" who like her dark self keeps her tied to the past. The narrator says that the book is not about "anorexia" but about "appetite", and so it is. The appetite of girls growing into adulthood in the 60-70s for education, equality, freedom, s ...more
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Hilary Mantel is the bestselling author of many novels including Wolf Hall, which won the Man Booker Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction. Bring Up the Bodies, Book Two of the Thomas Cromwell Trilogy, was also awarded the Man Booker Prize and the Costa Book Award. She is also the author of A Change of Climate, A Place of Greater Safety, Eight Months on Ghazzah Street, An ...more
More about Hilary Mantel...
Wolf Hall (Thomas Cromwell, #1) Bring Up the Bodies (Thomas Cromwell, #2) A Place of Greater Safety Beyond Black Wolf Hall / Bring Up the Bodies

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“You're only young once, they say, but doesn't it go on for a long time? More years than you can bear.” 20 likes
“So many years of preparation, for what was called adult life: was it for this?” 16 likes
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