Review by Booklist Review
With a harsh wit reminiscent of Mary McCarthy, prizewinning novelist Mantel writes about growing up Catholic in England, about her family secrets, school, work, and marriage, and about the chronic, excruciatingly painful illness that hit her at the age of 27. Without nostalgia, she remembers her childhood in a village community: Every person oversaw the affairs of the next; and sniggered about them. Her self-mockery is just as entertaining, and she's honest about how hard it is to remember: you can't make sense of childhood, only report it as it felt. She's enraged against the medical establishment that for years treated her physical symptoms as female neurosis caused by overambition. Yet with the fury and farce, she also writes with lyrical simplicity about loss. She remembers missing her dad after the family breakup: He was never mentioned after we parted: except by me, to me. We never met again. Women's book groups will want this, and so will writers trying to tell their stories. --Hazel Rochman Copyright 2003 Booklist
From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review
As she approaches midlife, Mantel applies her beautiful prose and expansive vocabulary to a somewhat meandering memoir. The English author of eight novels (The Giant, O'Brien; Eight Months on Ghazzah Street; etc.) is "writing in order to take charge of the story of my childhood and my childlessness; and in order to locate myself... between the lines where the ghosts of meaning are." Among the book's themes are ghosts and illness, both of which Mantel has much experience with. She expends many pages on her earliest years, and then on medical treatments in her 20s, but skips other decades almost entirely as she brings readers up to the present. At age seven she senses a horrifying creature in the garden, which as a Catholic she concludes is the devil; later, houses she lives in have "minor poltergeists." The first and foremost ghost, though, is the baby she will never have. By 20, Mantel is in constant pain from endometriosis, and at 27, after years of misdiagnosis and botched treatment, she has an operation that ends her fertility. Her pains come back, she has thyroid problems and drug treatments cause her body to balloon; she describes these ordeals with remarkably wry detachment. Fans of Mantel's critically acclaimed novels may enjoy the memoir as insight into her world. Often, though, all the fine detail that in another work would flesh out a plot-such as embroidery silk "the scarlet shade of the tip of butterflies' wings"-has nowhere to go. (Oct. 8) Forecast: Although this won't win Mantel new readers-though beautifully written, it lacks a coherent story line-fans of Eight Months on Ghazzah Street and A Change of Climate, which were very well received, may want to pick this up. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Library Journal Review
In this memoir, Mantel (A Change of Climate) provokes myriad emotions in readers as she tells of her life growing up in England after World War II. Her early years revolved around her mother, various stepfathers, and her Catholic schools. She looks back on her education with a combination of pathos and hilarity, at one point saying, "I was both too old and too young for the place I had arrived at. My best days were behind me." She found refuge in books, which soothed the dreariness of her school and home life. In her late teens, she moved to London for law school and then to Sheffield, where she married. It is at this point that her memoir takes an abrupt turn. She developed a persistent pain that would, over the next ten years, lead to a diagnosis of endometriosis, then to surgery, which rendered her unable to have children. The subsequent hormonal treatments left her unrecognizable to herself. Yet, as horrendous as this is, Mantel tempers her experiences with humor and profound insight. Writing, it seems, is the balm that enabled her to move beyond her circumstances. This is a moving and unforgettable memoir that will touch all who read it. For all collections.-Ron Ratliff, Kansas State Univ. Lib., Manhattan (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
(c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Review by Kirkus Book Review
An English critic and novelist (Fludd, 2000, etc.) summons the ghosts of her childhood and youth. In some ways, Mantel's early life was a struggle against ignorance and the brutalities that are its children. A stepfather brooked no disagreements and referred to her as "they"; classmates engaged in creative cruelty; teachers (especially one beast named Malachy) were boring and malevolent; a sexist university law tutor was a "talentless prat in a nylon shirt"; incompetent medicos prescribed psychotropics when confronted with complexity. Mantel begins and ends with the decision to sell their second home, a place in Norfolk she and her husband called "Owl Cottage." Her stepfather's ghost remained there. Mantel believes in specters and relates one particularly harrowing experience, when she was seven, of being occupied by a formless yet substantive horror she saw in the garden. At the time she was sure it was the devil. The experience became one of the enduring presences in her life. Mantel writes about the many other realities with grace, humor, irony, and, sometimes, bitterness. She tells about how she had two fathers living in the house at the same time (her biological father shared the dwelling with her mother's lover), about her relationships with relatives and books. After reading stories about King Arthur she decided she would be a combination railway guard, like her grandfather, and knight errant. She takes us through the Davy Crockett and Elvis crazes (neither touched her much) and describes the remarkable day when she received the results of her pivotal eleven-plus exam: "Passed. So I can have a life, I thought." The most alarming passages deal with her battles with endometriosis, a chronic gynecological disease undiagnosed for a decade by purblind physicians and sexist shrinks. Along the way, she has much of interest to say about the vagaries of memory, the betrayals of the body, and the art of writing. Mantel's voice, often gently whimsical, can also snarl with anger and bite with satire. Copyright ©Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.