Beyond Black, Hilary Mantel

hilary mantel

A comically sinister tale of wicked spirits and suburban mediums from the Man Booker Prize-winning author of ‘Wolf Hall’ and ‘Bring Up the Bodies’.

Alison Hart, a medium by trade, tours the dormitory towns of London’s orbital ring road with her flint-hearted sidekick, Colette, passing on messages from beloved dead ancestors. But behind her plump, smiling persona hides a desperate woman: she knows the terrors the next life holds but must conceal them from her wide-eyed clients. At the same time she is plagued by spirits from her own past, who infiltrate her body and home, becoming stronger and nastier the more she resists…

Beyond Black is one of those books that really gets under your skin. It’s visceral, gritty, beautifully written and full of such powerful imagery, shocks, scares and even domestic drama, that it deserves to be called a masterpiece.

But aside from it being labelled the greatest ghost story in the language by Phillip Pullman (well, I haven’t read them all, but it has to be up there with the very, very best) it’s also a very clever look at the process of writing and creativity. Mantel said herself that she sees many parallels between clairvoyance and writing: the solitary existence; dealing with characters that no-one else knows exist; seeing the world in a different way to other people. And this parallel offers even more food for thought to a book that you want to devour in one sitting.

This could be my shortest review, in three words: I love it.

It’s one of my favourite books. I keep coming back to it because it is genuinely haunting; the language hypnotic; the characters so fascinating.

I’m surprised at some of the negative comments I’ve seen about this book. Perhaps those readers who were not blown away by it were looking for Wolf Hall in suburbia, or maybe a poltergeist stalking a Victorian corridor. If you’re looking for that kind of thing, maybe read the Woman In Black by Susan Hill.

Beyond Black is a book that takes you by surprise. It’s dark, it’s creepy and it will stay with you long, long after you’ve finished it. That is, if you give it a chance, which you absolutely should.

It’s a hard book to pigeon hole (who would want to anyway?) because it’s more than the sum of its parts. If I could write as well as Mantel, then I might be able to put in to words how much I love this book, but I can’t, so I’ll just say: read it.

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