Title: The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher
Author: Hilary Mantel
Genre: Fiction / Short Stories
Rating: 3 out of 5
When I put this book on my reading list, I did so because the only Hilary Mantel I’d read was Wolf Hall, which I’d found hard going. I’m not a huge fan of historical fiction which didn’t help but I’d heard though that Mantel’s other novels were completely different, funny and clever (I think the word acerbic was used by one reviewer). I didn’t want to take on a full novel straight away so thought this collection of short stories might be a good place to start. The title, which is also the name of the last of the short stories, sealed the deal for me because I grew up in Thatcher’s Britain and have never known a person to divide people more.
There are 10 stories in total, all of which, bar The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher, have been published previously between 1993 and 2012. All of them are dark, claustrophobic, and not very cheery. I don’t think one had a happy ending (unless you happen to dislike Maggie that is). They range from the oppression of being a woman in 1980’s Saudi Arabia to childhood cruelty and infidelity. The language reflects this darkness and I can see shades of Wolf Hall in way the stories are written; there is a grittiness to it. The real focus seems to on what is going on inside each character. In each case, it’s not particularly pleasant. Mantel’s subjects (including herself as I believe the first story is autobiographical) are not in good places and they aren’t very likeable.
The unlikeable-ness wasn’t so much a problem for me, I quite like a misery guts now and again. The problem was none of the stories felt complete. No sooner was I drawn in, the story was over. None are longer than 36 pages and most are in the teens and 20’s. I didn’t feel any took time to really develop into what it felt, potentially, was there. At the back of the book, there is a list of where the stories first appeared. Mainly this was in magazines and newspapers and I wonder if that is why – they were written to specific word counts.
That said, a couple did stick with me – “Comma”, which is about childhood cruelty and fear of the unknown with a few class prejudices thrown in; “Harley Street” which might be about Vampires but is definitely a bit spooky and off-putting; and “The Heart Stops Without Warning” which is about a girl with anorexia and I found quite sad and also disturbing. Because the rest, other than the title story, haven’t made much of an impression, I don’t feel I can give the book more than 3 out of 5 but those three, if you have a chance are – for me – worth a read.