Bill Kerwin's Reviews > Beyond Black

Beyond Black by Hilary Mantel
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Oct 19, 2009

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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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Reading Progress

October 19, 2009 – Shelved
Started Reading
November 1, 2009 – Finished Reading

Comments (showing 1-14 of 14) (14 new)

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message 1: by [deleted user] (new)

Bill, another interesting review. I heard Hilary Mantel speak at a book festival a couple of years ago and was surprised to hear her reply to a question from the audience that it is not at all certain that Alison is really hearing and seeing ghosts.


message 2: by [deleted user] (new)

PS: I'm glad to report that not all British food
is mediocre. :-)


message 3: by Bill (last edited Jan 25, 2016 06:47AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Bill  Kerwin Soairse wrote: "PS: I'm glad to report that not all British food
is mediocre. :-)"


Duly noted!

In my recent trip to Ireland, I noticed Dublin food was much improved from what I remembered twenty years ago.


Bill  Kerwin Soairse wrote: "I heard Hilary Mantel speak at a book festival a couple of years ago and was surprised to hear her reply to a question from the audience that it is not at all certain that Allison is really seeing and hearing ghost."

Interesting! I thought she was, at least at times, but I really liked the fact that the line between real and false apparitions was impossible to draw.


message 5: by Hannah (new)

Hannah Robins note that it is not actually in London that she practices, she 'doesn't do ethnic' is given as part of the reason, it is in the surrounding urban sprawl


Bill  Kerwin Hannah wrote: "note that it is not actually in London that she practices, she 'doesn't do ethnic' is given as part of the reason, it is in the surrounding urban sprawl"

Thanks for the clarification. I did refer to the "working class suburbs of London," but not doing "ethnic" is a very revealing comment, and it escaped me.


message 7: by Hannah (new)

Hannah Robins Bill wrote: "Hannah wrote: "note that it is not actually in London that she practices, she 'doesn't do ethnic' is given as part of the reason, it is in the surrounding urban sprawl"

Thanks for the clarificatio..."


the reason she gives is that she has problems with those who believe in reincarnation, interesting given her own consideration of past lives toward the end of the book - just finished rereading it because I have recommended it to my book club!


Droydicus Malojan Bill - have you read Wolf Hall & the sequel?


Bookwyrm I think she effectively evokes the spiritual emptiness and essential bleakness of contemporary culture, it's an extremely bleak book, even aside from the horrific experiences of the main character. Did you find it funny though? There were several places were I laughed and thought the humour was well nuanced, though it is always fleeting. I read it two years or three years ago so don't recall the moments that amused me.


Bill  Kerwin Dewi wrote: "I think she effectively evokes the spiritual emptiness and essential bleakness of contemporary culture, it's an extremely bleak book, even aside from the horrific experiences of the main character...."

I agree about the laughs. They are hollow and a little painful, but they are there.


Bill  Kerwin Droydicus wrote: "Bill - have you read Wolf Hall & the sequel?"

No, but they are on my very long list of to-reads. Should I move 'em up?


Droydicus Malojan I think so, they're incredible. Beautifully written, amazingly observed - sublime almost. By far the best historical fiction Ive ever read.

Id also recommend 'The giant O'Brien', if only for its quixotic descriptions of 19th century Irish pastoral life.


Bill  Kerwin Droydicus wrote: "I think so, they're incredible. Beautifully written, amazingly observed - sublime almost. By far the best historical fiction Ive ever read."

Thanks. I'll definitely read them sometime, "if the good Lord's willing and the creek don't rise," as they say in our southern states.


message 14: by William (new)

William Thank you for the review, Bill.


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