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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 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.
  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 |
She does write beautifully, but the part of the book that was really astonishing was the quarter or third that relates her major illness and its consequences. It's simply extraordinary that she wrote anything in those circumstances, and it went on for decades. An inspiration. ( )
  Matt_B | Aug 17, 2014 |
There is no self-pity in this memoir, which is poignant, unexpectedly funny at times. If anything there is too much self-control, and even minute traces of self-loathing. In handling the sections of her childhood, she shapes the story to the child’s half understandings. The male figures, father, step-father, brothers, husband, are at best presences. Yet every sentence, every phrase in this book is breathtaking, artfully crafted, subtly shaped. We almost forget the message given at the beginning. If you want to be a writer “ Rise in the quiet hours of the night, prick your fingertips, and use the blood for ink.” But what we have read has been written in blood, product of pain, sacrifice, self-control, distance from oneself and from one’s own ghosts. A real achievement.

( )
  linda.lappin | Jun 23, 2014 |
This short memoir by Hilary Mantel focuses on two main aspects of her life: her somewhat difficult childhood and her long periods of (misdiagnosed) ill-health. Of the two, it was the first that I found most interesting. Growing up as a young child in a Irish Catholic home in England she seems to have had a poor but loving early childhood, surrounded by parents, grandparents and aunts and uncles. But as she was about to start secondary school her life changed for ever: after a period of a somewhat curious ménage a trois, her mother left her father to live with another man, taking the young Hilary and her two brothers with her. Hilary never saw her father again. At this stage I desperately wanted to know more about the background of this separation, but as these recollections are very much told from the point of view of the child observing them those details are never forthcoming. And with a new and difficult step-father, and a place at a convent school while the child of a woman who had left her husband to live with another man, Hilary's teenage years become much more difficult.

What I found a more challenging part of the book was the story of Hilary Mantel's battle with ill-health, which left her infertile by her late twenties. While this is a horrendous story of misdiagnosis by doctor after doctor, I found that I got more and more frustrated with Hilary herself: I just couldn't understand why either she or her husband or parent didn't make more fuss, when it was clear that she wasn't getting the treatment she required. Why didn't you argue, I kept wanting to say to her. Why don't you insist on a second opinion? And it's clear that Hilary Mantel does not completely understand her attitude either:

'There are several possible explanations, on several levels. One is that, in the time and place where I grew up, expectations of health were low, especially for women. The proper attitude to doctors was humble gratitude; you cleaned the house before they arrived. The deeper explanation is that I always felt that I deserved very little, that I would probably not be happy in life, and that the safest thing was to lie down and die'

Overall, an interesting read, although the recollections are interspersed at times with a number of supernatural elements (the ghost of the title being a case in point) which rather left me cold. But recommended nonetheless. ( )
  SandDune | Apr 4, 2014 |
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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 Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:37:03 -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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