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Giving Up the Ghost: A Memoir by Hilary…

Giving Up the Ghost: A Memoir (2003)

by Hilary Mantel

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Mantel's memoir focuses on three main aspects of her life: her dysfunctional family, her relationship to Catholicism, and her ongoing health issues. She, her parents, and her two younger brothers lived with her maternal grandparents during her early years; she was particularly close to her grandfather. Later, her parents moved into a home of their own, and her mother's lover moved in; Hilary and her father shared a room. There is some hint of sexual abuse, but it is rather obscure. At one point she says that everyone expects this to be mentioned in a memoir, and she relates a "vision" she once had of a child lying in her grandfather's garden until the ground covers her and the grass grows over her and she disappears. Maybe if you've had this experience, you know what she is hinting at, but it was all rather cryptic to me. Perhaps it's a memory that she was trying to bury, but I'm not sure.

Like a lot of Catholics, Hilary shifts between deep faith and resentment or guilt. Most of the nuns at her school were cruel. She relates one story of a nun hitting her so hard that her head turned around the wrong way. One nun in particular kept telling her that she would amount to nothing and was astonished when Hilary passed exams and was able to attend university. Her mother had pushed to get her into a better school, but other girls who knew her also attended, and they spread the stories about Hilary's "sinful" mother, leaving her rejected. But at other times, she seems to have found comfort in prayer, and she admits that reading prayers had an effect on her writing style.

The greatest amount of time is spent detailing her sad battles with ill health. She was afflicted with pains in her legs and abdomen and excessive menstrual bleeding. After seeing the university clinician, she was sent to a psychiatrist who determined that her complaints were psychosomatic; all they ever tested her for before putting her on a series of mind-muddling drugs was anemia. It was the 1960s, and she was encouraged to give up law school as the focus on "details" was supposedly affecting her mental state. Years later, she read about endometriosis and felt sure this was what she suffered from; finally, she found a doctor who agreed. But by then, at age 27, she had to undergo a hysterectomy and had several inches of her bowel removed as well. Although she had never particularly wanted children, nor did her husband, she lamented the loss of choice. Because of her youth, the doctors kept her on hormones to delay menopause, but this fed remaining endometrial cells that had wandered to other parts of her body, leading to renewed and continuing pains.

It's quite amazing that during this time, Mantel began to research and write her French Revolution novel, A Place of Greater Safety. Despite a difficult life, she managed to develop into a wonderful, Booker Award-winning writer. (Wolf Hall is my favorite historical novel of all time.) Rather than this being a first-rate memoir, I got the sense that Mantel needed to get her past out of her system by writing Giving Up the Ghost. I can only recommend it to fans who want to know more about her life and the endurance that brought her to where she is today. ( )
2 vote Cariola | Sep 29, 2016 |
not very engaging ( )
  mahallett | Jun 1, 2016 |
This brief but moving memoir is difficult to write about, because one starts thinking Mantel is writing about her experiences with the supernatural, but its concluding pages are very personal. It took courage to write this, and considerable effort . ( )
  nmele | Apr 15, 2016 |
Mantel's is the kind of writing which leaves you thinking why bother with your own scribbles. She is so good. The ghost of her stepfather flickers on the first page, then a hundred pages in we are alerted to the apparition seen in the garden at the age of six or seven; this is the ghost which haunts the rest of her memoir: "I am writing in order to take charge of the story of my childhood and my childlessness; and in order to locate myself, if not within a body, then in the narrow space between one letter and the next, between the lines where the ghosts of meaning are." She remembers the people she knew including her family and her "best friend" who was mean to her, the Catholicism of her early years, her confused little person thoughts, games played by name and the size, color and story of many classic books. She recalls every place she has lived and the pains of marital breakups and moving. She writes about her grueling medical history with just enough detachment and wit that you can keep reading and marvel at her metaphors: "I have been so mauled by medical procedures, so sabotaged and made over, so thin and so fat, that sometimes I feel that each morning it is necessary to write myself into being..." And after a diagnosis finally arrives. "I am a shabby old building in an area of heavy shelling, which the inhabitants have vacated years ago." Her descriptions can be reread over and over: On their first marital lodgings: "We couldn't get the stately family wardrobe upstairs, so it stayed down, its fine mirror reflecting the flickering of the silverfish as they busied cheerfully about their lives." It is the work of a master writer.
2 vote featherbooks | Jan 1, 2015 |
This book is truly a Gem! As a person who can remember my own past from an age before I could talk, I could totally relate to the child, Hilary. Also, having raised a precocious child, I could so see parallels.

What a difficult life Hilary Mantel has endured, and what a gift she has given the world with her books! ( )
  elsyd | Sep 1, 2014 |
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Mantel, Hilaryprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Wymark, JaneNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0007142722, Paperback)

From the double Man Booker Prize-winning author of 'Wolf Hall', a wry, shocking and beautiful memoir of childhood, ghosts, hauntings, illness and family. 'Giving up the Ghost' is award-winning novelist Hilary Mantel's uniquely unusual five-part autobiography. Opening in 1995 with 'A Second Home', Mantel describes the death of her stepfather which leaves her deeply troubled by the unresolved events of her childhood. In 'Now Geoffrey Don't Torment Her' Mantel takes the reader into the muffled consciousness of her early childhood, culminating in the birth of a younger brother and the strange candlelight ceremony of her mother's 'churching'. In 'Smile', an account of teenage perplexity, Mantel describes a household where the keeping of secrets has become a way of life. Finally, at the memoir's conclusion, Mantel explains how through a series of medical misunderstandings and neglect she came to be childless and how the ghosts of the unborn like chances missed or pages unturned, have come to haunt her life as a writer.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:13:42 -0400)

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"In postwar rural England, Hilary Mantel grew up convinced that the most improbable of accomplishments, including "chivalry, horsemanship, and swordplay," were within her grasp. Once married, however, she acquired a persistent pain that led to destructive drugs and patronizing psychiatry, ending in an ineffective but irrevocable surgery. There would be no children; in herself she found instead one novel, and then another."--www.Amazon.com.… (more)

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