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Beyond Black by Hilary Mantel

Beyond Black (2005)

by Hilary Mantel

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1,336505,801 (3.38)1 / 213
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Showing 1-5 of 50 (next | show all)
This one started off marvellously with a lot of (dark) humour but then it sort of runs into the mud and nothing much happens anymore. At one third I got so annoyed I quit. ( )
  stef7sa | Jan 5, 2017 |
Well I don't know what to say about this book. Still not sure if it's worth the 4 star rating I've given it, but somehow I liked it, even though it didn't completely grip me.

Mantel has excelled herself in creating such a vivid and vital picture of the spirit world where it meets reality, but I couldn't warm to any of the characters, and was almost glad when my reading of it was over.

It's dark, and dreary and grim, but somehow little chinks of light shine through the narrative keeping you reading til the end.

Give it a go, and just bask in Mantel's peerless prose. ( )
  GwenMcGinty | May 13, 2016 |
4.5 stars. ( )
  Melissa_J | Jan 16, 2016 |
This is a very hard book to review. I should really not have liked it. The premise is one I don't believe in or have much interest in and the characters and actions were dark and dirty and unlikable. But somehow the book works. Mantel is really good writer.

So what is this book about? Well, it's about an overweight medium, Alison, who meets Colette who has just left her husband. Colette becomes Alison's manager - a 24 hour manager, even moving in with Alison. She books her shows, sets them up just right, and keeps Alison company through long nights of interference from the spirit world. As their relationship progresses, Colette gets more an more controlling, monitoring Alison's eating habits and becoming an abusive partner in most ways.

Then there is Alison's personal story, which Colette never really understands. Alison seems to be the real deal as far as mediums go. She has a spirit guide named Morris who is a dirty, cruel, little man. As the book progresses, we see that Morris and Alison have a history in life as well. Morris was part of a group of men that were customers of her abusive prostitute mother. Alison has incomplete flashbacks of a horrifying childhood. She was terribly abused, but did she commit some atrocities as well? As Alison's abused childhood comes out I kept thinking, oh all these spirits are just in her imagination from her damaged past. It's some way for her to work it out. Maybe. But Mantel doesn't really go there. She doesn't seem to concern herself with whether or not all this is true; it's a vehicle for her to explore these characters she's created. And that's why it worked for me. She wasn't trying to convince me what the spirit world is like (or that it exists at all) or that mediums really have a knowledge of the spirit world, but the book is a creative way to explore some interesting characters.

So despite not liking the subject or the characters, I really liked this book. I've only read Mantel's historical fiction before (which I love) so I was hesitant to change my opinion of Mantel by reading something I thought I might not like. In the end, I'm so glad I did since this really increased my respect for Mantel. This was a very, very different book from the others I've read and it was still great. ( )
2 vote japaul22 | Oct 30, 2015 |
Here’s the perfect set-up for a black comedy: an overweight, repressed psychic named Alison must confront her own ghosts—and not just symbolic ghosts, like mere stand-ins of desires and secrets, but actual, real ghosts—the Fiends she calls them. What makes Beyond Black by Hilary Mantel really interesting is that Alison is the real deal. In a live performance in front of an audience in one of the more dramatic scenes in the book, we’re treated to her special skills in action. Nothing sensationalist or jaw-dropping happens; Alison is just a psychic able to tune in and listen to the voices of the dead trying to get messages across. No mysticism here. The dead are just as insufferable as the living; they are bores, petty grudge-holders, boorish, and often liars. It could almost be a sitcom. Alison doles out advice on medical matters and remodeling projects. Here is this powerful psychic mind, and she’s doing counseling for gullible, insecure people.

Because we see Alison hold her own so well on stage, it makes all the revelations offstage about her past and childhood that more painful and dark in contrast. Life was never easy for Alison. Even her spirit guide all these years, Morris, is a total lech and low-life. No trace of the dignity of some ancient sage here; no, Alison’s ghost companion is a man that lounges on the floor and fondles himself, a man who often vandalizes children’s car seats in parking lots. A lot of the dark comedy comes from Morris’s annoying antics. But Morris is much more than just comic relief; he stands for everything horrible that has happened in Alison’s childhood—and there is a lot of it.

We see glimpses of Alison as a terrified, stunned child throughout the book, as well as get her first-hand account of various abuses she has experienced as she tells it to her friend, Colette. We learn that Alison’s mother was a prostitute and that men, often violent drunks, hung around the house a lot. A sordid, macabre trade of sorts develops: Chopped up body parts. A severed head in a bathtub. Vicious guard dogs constantly barking. Alison has blacked out on most recollections but slowly starts to unspool from her oblivion to remember. Whenever Alison does remember, it is often shared without any pathos or feeling. It comes out matter-of-factly, which seemed odd to me.

Collete is Alison’s anchor—a companion, business partner, assistant, and listener. She helps Alison in her moments of psychic crisis when she gets overwhelmed. She also keeps house and handles all of Alison’s business affairs.

The gist of the conflict in the book comes as more and more ghouls like Morris start coming out of the woodwork and start harassing Alison. Mantel writes these figures so well; her details about their clothing and faces are vivid; it’s as if these disembodied beings are there in the room, lurking with flesh-and-blood solidity. There is a Thelma-and-Louise kind of dynamic between Alison and Colette that is fun to watch, though by the end it’s transmuted into something far more intimate and dark. When the final confrontation takes place, it feels both anticlimactic and cathartic. Everyone has his or her demons, they say. Beyond Black takes that premise and gives it a literal tune-up.

Overall, Beyond Black is a hard book to like and embrace. There’s a choked grimness to the characters’ lives. The vitriol is thick. The banality of the evil that lurks among Alison’s spiteful ghosts can be overwhelmingly depressing, long after you’ve stopped laughing and want to turn away in horror. ( )
  gendeg | May 1, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 50 (next | show all)
Beyond Black is a fine work, and from a lesser novelist would have seemed a masterpiece. It is too long—Muriel Spark would have managed the same effect in a hundred or so crisp pages—and despite the self-deprecating humor it shows too overtly its grand intentions.
added by jburlinson | editNew York Review of Books, John Banville (pay site) (Sep 25, 2005)
This is, I think, a great comic novel. Hilary Mantel's humor, like Flannery O'Connor's, is so far beyond black it becomes a kind of light.
Some novelists don't want you to hit the first page cold. They like to insert an epigraph or two between you and the main event. But how to choose someone to make that first introduction between author and reader? Should you pick Saul Bellow, like Ian McEwan? How about Sophocles (Ali Smith)? Or maybe HM The Queen?

Hilary Mantel's choice isn't purely for comic effect. The royals are among many lost souls haunting Alison Hart, a medium from the "nice part of Slough". She gives Princess Margaret the brush-off, but Diana is another matter. She manifests, wearing her wedding dress, to ask Alison to give her love to her boys, "Kingy and Thingy". She can't remember their names. "You oiky little greasespot," Diana fumes, stamping her feet. "Why don't you just bog off."
Since 2003, when Hilary Mantel published her bold and acclaimed memoir, Giving Up the Ghost, fans have been waiting to see how her fiction would develop in its wake. Beyond Black, her ninth novel, is a stunning answer for them: a deep, disturbing, violently amusing and subversive work, testimony to the formidable strength of Mantel's imagination, which splits the human world so convincingly between the forces of good and evil. It is the closest to a séance you will get on the printed page
Hilary Mantel is often praised for (among other things) her “wit”. It is true that all her novels, and her brilliant memoir, Giving Up the Ghost, are superbly witty. But “wit” is too pallid a word for her particular brand of comedy. Mantel is dreadfully funny — funny with an evil streak, as things are when you pass through the membrane of normality; funny like slapstick at a funeral.
added by dylanwolf | editThe Times, Kate Saunders (Apr 30, 2005)
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"There are powers at work in this country about which we have no knowledge" H.M. The Queen (attributed)
'There are powers at work in this country about which we have no knowledge.'
H.M. the Queen (attributed)
To Jane Haynes
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Travelling: the dank oily days after Christmas.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0007157762, Paperback)

1st trade edition paperback, fine

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:00:37 -0400)

(see all 6 descriptions)

Alison is a medium. But what she hears is sometimes just too dark to pass on. She mostly tells her clients what they want to hear. Colette, her manager and side-kick, makes the bookings and gets Alison on stage. And then there's Morris, Alison's foul-mouthed and obscene Spirit Guide.… (more)

» see all 4 descriptions

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