Bill Kerwin's Reviews > Beyond Black

Beyond Black by Hilary Mantel
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May 09, 15

Read in November, 2009

There's not much here in the way of plot, but still 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 and her manager Collete is effectively presented, the character of Morris the spirit guide--an obscene, dwarfish bookmaker--is entertainingly vile, and the hints concerning Alison's childhood are predictably dark and deftly placed within the narrative. Where Mantel really excels, however, is in descriptions of threadbare London neighborhoods, the mediocrity of British food, and descriptions of a spirit world equally threadbare and mediocre.

The biographical revelations that end the novel are suitably shocking, but I have to admit that by that time I barely cared, principally because the story itself is never compelling. The novel is, however, vivid in language and stylistically impressive. It is definitely worth a read.
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