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An Experiment in Love by Hilary Mantel
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An Experiment in Love

by Hilary Mantel

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Showing 1-5 of 8 (next | show all)
This is one of those books where the author seems to be much more interested in the detail than in the story. Mantel doesn't bother to tie up any of the loose ends for us: we're expected to do the work ourselves, if we care to. The detail is rich and wonderful: as an account of growing up in relatively poor circumstances in the North of England it's almost as compelling as Oranges are not the only fruit — if you can imagine Oranges with modest Catholic wallflowers in place of ranting Pentecostal super-egos, that is — and there's a lot there that anyone who's ever been a penniless student should be able to identify with. I didn't feel that Mantel really took us to the point where we could understand why Carmel stops eating, though. ( )
  thorold | Jun 29, 2013 |
Very interesting to read a Hilary Mantel book that wasn't enormous! This slight story of Carmel and her 'friends' is beautifully written and I was quite intrigued with how the story would turn out. Unfortunately, something eventually happens and then the book just finishes - rather abruptly from my point of view. So not a particularly satisfying read except from a literary perspective - most of Mantel's writing is incredibly evocative and it is worth reading the book for that reason alone. ( )
  PennyAnne | Jan 20, 2013 |
As reasons to try reading a book go, the fact that a quote from it was used as an epigraph in another book you liked (here, A Monster Calls) is a pretty weak one. And yet, it can be enough to set matters rolling, and I had sort of meant to read something by Mantel since she won the Booker Prize for Wolf Hall, and this book was relatively short and easy enough to try, and so here we are. So was it worth it? Well... yes and no.

This is a story of one Carmel McBain, narrated by an older and perhaps wiser version of the character as she gives an account of her school days in London, and her dealings primarily with two women she attended school with in her hometown, the rich and stylish Julianne and the working-class daughter of immigrants Karina. The book functions on two levels, really: the one dealing with the straightforward story of how each of the women adapts to life and the new circumstances and people it brings once they arrive in London, and the other looking at class issues in England in the late 60s, and at culture more generally. Carmel's parents are lower middle class and give her very little to live on at school, meaning she comes to find it hard even to survive on the funds she has; Julianne has enough money to essentially get whatever she wants, and fits into the culture of the dorm more cleanly; Karina has a different mindset from the other girls about money and the face needed to present to the world, what she wants from life, and what is fair play. Etc.

There's much backstory about the three leads' life before coming to London, and wistful or almost sardonic framing from the future, and definitely some glancing but still caustic blows at what is probably a realistic enough depiction of life for women during that period in England - how hard it was to be taken seriously at events and meetings, to lead a life you could carve out and want with the strictures in both place and mores. The class stuff is actually handled fairly deftly as well; it's not waved in your face much or anything, you have to think about it a little, and that's nice.

That said... yeah. The book didn't quite come together for me, perhaps because I found it hard to really get into understanding the character's mindsets, particularly Carmel's, or perhaps because sometimes the plotting really was too low-key for me. The style was generally good, and Carmel did have a clear voice, and yet it meant that the other characters didn't come in sharp enough sometimes. Also, the ending felt far too abrupt; there's a big event and no real denouement, just a sudden turn away from the page, from the feel of it. It doesn't do the story justice.

I don't know that I would judge Mantel on this book only, and if you're looking for somewhere to start with her, this almost certainly isn't it, but it's not a bad book. It just didn't connect with me... it could be I didn't appreciate it because I'm too distanced from or unknowledgable about the setting, but it's still what it is: a slight volume that should probably have been less slight, for the betterment of all involved, including our slight Carmel. ( )
1 vote Capfox | Oct 4, 2012 |
One of the strongest parts in this somewhat harrowing coming-of-age story is Mantel's continuing ability to highlight and dramatize the indignities of poverty, the constant awareness of poor people of class differences, and the almost complete obliviousness of richer people to them. The narrator, Carmel McBain, comes from a poor Catholic family in the north of England. We see her overbearing mother whose life's ambition is Carmel's success, her difficult friendship with Karina, a neighbor girl whose family is even poorer than hers, their escape through academic achievement first to an elite Catholic school, where they meet Julianne, a girl from a much richer family, and then to London for university where all three girls, now young women, live in the same bleak residence hall. The present of the novel is their first few months in this hall, in the early 1960s, as they confront issues of friendship, religion, boyfriends, sex, the rigors of meager meals in the residence hall and, for Carmel, the challenges of having almost no money beyond that which pays for her tuition and board. The climax is almost melodramatic, shocking, but not completely unexpected. This isn't one of my favorites of Mantel's, but it is well worth reading.
5 vote rebeccanyc | Aug 7, 2011 |
A slight but interesting novel about relationships within a group of women undergraduates in London in the late 60s, some of whom have history from earlier schools. I was really upset by a decision one of them made at the very end, which shows you how well the characters were described. Real enough to care about.

One slapsticky thing I didn't like (someone vomiting onto a letter which renders it unreadable) but otherwise grittily realistic, which I like. ( )
  piemouth | Jul 31, 2011 |
Showing 1-5 of 8 (next | show all)
Hilary Mantel's seventh novel, ''An Experiment in Love,'' is only the second to be published in the United States. This is a shame, because Ms. Mantel is an exceptionally good writer. Her book's title, however, is somewhat misleading. ''Experiment'' suggests clinical detachment; but if experiments are going on, they're more like what Dr. Frankenstein got up to with the body parts: intense, unholy and messy. As for ''love,'' the inaccuracy is that it's singular: there are many kinds of love in this book, almost all contaminated. ''Enter the Dragoness'' might be a more likely title, for this is a story about emotional kung fu, female style -- except that by the end, although all are wounded or worse, there's no clear winner.

 
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 080505202X, Paperback)

Hilary Mantel's seventh novel examines the pressures on women during the 1960s to excel--but not be too successful--in England's complex hierarchy of class and status. Pushed by a domineering mother, Carmel McBain climbs her way through the pecking order and ends up at London University as an acquiescent and undernourished teenager, achieving the status so desired by her mother, but too weak to make use of it or pose a threat to anyone. Though this is Carmel's story, it reflects on a generation of girls desiring the power of men, but fearful of abandoning what is expected and proper.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:35:27 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

A girl's climb up the social ladder in 1960s England. She is Carmel McBain from Lancashire, whose low-class mother pumps her with ambition. The novel follows Carmel through a convent school to university, describing her ups and downs integrating in her new milieu, and the price she pays for it. By the author of A Place of Greater Safety.… (more)

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