I bought this book after much deliberation - All the papers loved it - but most of the reviews I read on this site were less than favourable. I decided to make my own mind up.
The plot of this book concerns Alison, a gifted but troubled psychic, with a horrific past - touring lacklustre psychic fairs on the ring road around London, offering comfort to the bereaved, passing on messages from the departed - All the while, coming to terms with her squalid, abusive upbringing and dreadful treatment at the hands of her prostitute mother and the squaddies and lowlifes who populated her early life and still torment her after their passing. Morris, her seedy spirit guide, is her departed link to the past she would rather forget.
Colette, her thorny assistant - plays a major part, sceptical and indifferent to her spectral tormentors - she grounds Alison firmly in reality with diets, timetables and a complete lack of sympathy. A host of sardonically characterised mediums and mystics give some comic relief and balance the intense horror of her childhood.
The key to this book is that it's not a thriller or a ghost story - its a beautifully written tale of facing up to your demons - alive or dead, Mantel writes with confidence and her prose is, at times, breathtaking. Her characters are well observed and she breathes life into the dead - Morris and his cronies are believable - horrible small time crooks, with nothing to talk about but the old days and why they can't get a good savaloy anymore. You also realise that the world that Alison inhabits is as dead as the one she can tap into.
My only criticism is a slightly slow 3rd quarter - that being said, once you read the last page, you will miss Alison - you might even miss Morris.