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Still my favourite Hilary Mantel novel
on 22 October 2015
This was the first book by Hilary Mantel I read, about two decades ago; it remains my favourite of all her novels and is perhaps her most approachable and accessible work. It follows the fortunes of three school friends during their early years at a northern Catholic school and their first year at a London university in 1970 - the narrator Carmel, the cool and urbane Julianne and the insular, malignant Karina.
Although this book may lack the grand scope of the author's historical fiction, her prose is as wonderful as ever, with its dark humour and trademark gift for conjuring uniquely apt images - who could possibly forget her description of a purse zip being opened in a hushed shop as sounding "like God farting"? It's also perhaps the most accurate, insightful, painfully amusing portrait of childhood I have ever read; the hopes, the fears, the casual cruelties, the embarrassment at parents' foibles, the mixture of awe and contempt for teachers...many acclaimed authors falter when it comes to creating child characters, but Hilary Mantel does it brilliantly.
For anyone curious about Mantel's work, I'd suggest this as a great place to start. I can clearly remember pressing this book upon all my friends after first reading it, and twenty years on I still recommend it unreservedly.