Deborah Edwards's Reviews > An Experiment in Love

An Experiment in Love by Hilary Mantel
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's review
Mar 16, 2010

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Read in March, 2010

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 a wry "coming of age" tale set in 1960's London. Mantel is very good at setting the tone, and at letting you envision these people as true flesh and blood entities. You can see them as clearly as the people in your own hazy memories of youth. Their desires, their fears, the coping mechanisms they use to deal with their emerging womanhood - it all rings true. I definitely know these young women, have met them, have been to college with some of them, have shared some of their helplessness and some of their appetites. That it all happens decades before my own college experience does not date it, the same situations are still valid today. The inner life of the main character, Carmel, is beautifully rendered, we think her thoughts with her, we realize the strange empowerment of her self-sabotage, we understand the miscalculations of her sisters in the dormitory through her eyes, the woman she is hoping to be and the one she is hoping not to become. It's just that this is a story that feels familiar, as if other authors have tackled it before and possibly more effectively. It is a worthwhile read and a thoughtful study, but I cannot help but wonder, if Mantel had it to write over again, if she would lead us further into these lives, give us a richer world to enter and perhaps, follow into the future a bit more - or alternatively, if she would crop this a bit to find the very moving short story it would have made.

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