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  • Writer's pictureCharles Arrowsmith

Review: A Memoir of My Former Self by Hilary Mantel (Boston Globe)


The great themes in her later career were womanhood, royalty, power. In the acclaimed “Wolf Hall” trilogy, her subject was capacious enough for her to symphonize on them at length, with variation. But for more than three decades, the late Hilary Mantel wrote extensively on a far broader range of subjects. Her articles for the London Review of Books were collected in the marvelously titled “Mantel Pieces.” Now, “A Memoir of My Former Self” brings together more than 70 pieces of nonfiction and criticism she wrote for the New York Review of Books, the Guardian, and others, as well as the BBC-commissioned Reith Lectures of 2017. The book is a continuous delight.


Though it’s not the memoir its title promises, it does graze in some of the pastures Mantel traversed in “Giving Up the Ghost” (2002). That (superb) memoir chronicled her difficult childhood and struggle with endometriosis with acid wit and no shred of self-pity. Born into a Catholic family of Irish descent in the north of England, her infancy was one long swashbuckling fantasy: “guarding, knight errantry, camel training.” When “Ilary” was still a girl, her mother moved the man who would become her stepfather into the family home — while her father was still there. She left to study law and married young, despite her family’s reservations. In her twenties, after years of condescension from doctors who should have known better, she was diagnosed with the condition that would affect her for the rest of her life. She spent Christmas week 1979 in hospital “having my fertility confiscated and my insides rearranged.”


For the review in full, visit The Boston Globe.

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