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Beyond Black by Hilary Mantel

Beyond Black (original 2005; edition 2010)

by Hilary Mantel (Author)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
1,565558,342 (3.41)1 / 244
Alison Hart is a medium by trade and has the ability to communicate with spirits, but she feels this is a torment instead of a gift. She knows that the next life holds terrors that she must conceal from her clients, her days and nights are haunted by the men she knew in her childhood, the thugs and petty criminals who preyed upon her hopeless, addled mother Emmie. The more she tries to get rid of them, the stronger and naster they become......… (more)
Title:Beyond Black
Authors:Hilary Mantel (Author)
Info:Fourth Estate (2010), Edition: paperback / softback, 480 pages
Collections:Your library

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Beyond Black by Hilary Mantel (2005)


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» See also 244 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 55 (next | show all)
A contemporary fantasy novel about a psychic and her assistant trying to make a business and general interactions with the spirit world. The psychic can really commune with spirits and has her own spirit guide, who causes more mischief then help. The spirit part of the book is light and consists mostly on her spirit guide. The story is mostly about day to day events and past events that helped shape the psychic. Overall there is no plot, very little story, and not an enjoyable read. The characters are like caricatures and remind me of Confederacy of Dunces, but not in a good way. There is a lot of body shaming in the book, which I expected it to lead somewhere, but it didn't. I wouldn't recommend this book. ( )
  renbedell | Apr 21, 2020 |
This is an odd book. At one level it is incredibly unpleasant, and yet I don't remember thinking about stopping. Spoilers follow...
Alison is a woman built on generous lines and is a medium. She has, as her spirit guide, a thoroughly unpleasant individual known as Morris. She has known Morris in real life, he was one of a set of distinctly unpleasant individuals who hung around her mother's house when she was young. Alison's mother was on the game, and the group of men (known collectively as the the fiends) were her clients, drug dealers and worse. Alison is confused about her childhood, not being sure what happened exactly when or how old she was. What we glean is that she was auctioned off by her mother to the highest bidder, was shared around, abused, cut, beaten and thoroughly degraded by all concerned. She gradually starts to make sense of her childhood and her adult life begins to make more sense and a change for the better is achieved.
In parallel to this we have Collette, who is entirely un-moved by the spirit world. She has just come out of a relationship with Gavin and is seeking meaning in her life. She becomes Alison's business PA, arranging her demonstrations, doing the books etc. they move into a house together (in separate rooms, it's not that sort of relationship) and there is plenty of opportunity for misunderstanding. You could also describe her as completely untouched by the softer arts as well, but that is, to some extent, her purpose in the book, to act as a foil to Alison.
The cover describes this as being darkly humorous. It is certainly dark, about as black as it is possible to be, I think, and while there is wit in here, in some of the situations conjured up, I'm not sure its wit will be what stays with me. My overriding feeling on concluding is that there is a particularly dark corner of hell reserved for those who act as the fiends have done. Alison comes of the book in a better place than she went into it, but that is the only positive I think I can take from it. ( )
  Helenliz | Feb 7, 2020 |
Beyond Black is a strange dark and yet also oddly humorous novel. One of the two main characters is Alison; a medium who can speak with people who have died. She meets Colette who becomes here manager and makes Alison more successful. but Colette is not a “sensitive” herself and doesn’t really understand what Alison must endure.

Alison is haunted by her childhood. She had an abusive mother who was a prostitute and also let her customers abuse Alison. Alison remembers some of what happened to her but has repressed many of her memories. Unfortunately her spirit guid to the “other side” is Morris, the ghost of one of the men who may have abused her. As the book progresses the behavior of Morris and friends (the ghosts of the other men from Alison’s mother’s circle) becomes more insulting and tormenting.

The book really doesn’t have a plot. Alison and her fellow psychics make their living doing group shows and one on one readings for customers. Much of the humor of the book comes from the petty sniping between the psychics and the relationship between Alison and Colette (who buy a house together) and their suburban neighbors. Eventually Alison realizes that, to end the torment from Morris and the others, she must use her powers to uncover the memories from her childhood that she has suppressed. ( )
  amareshjoshi | Jul 26, 2019 |
I didn’t care for this at all, but ended up rather engrossed by it just the same. Huh. Rather like Mr. Norell, another British Fantasy/Horror, I didn’t find the supernatural element very scary or interesting. The menace from the medium’s past got tiresome. ( )
  Seafox | Jul 24, 2019 |
Hilary Mantel has always scared me a little when I've seen her interviewed. I find her a bit like a Margaret Thatcher of writing; if I ever met her, I'm pretty sure she's one of those women who would make me feel like I'm 12 again, and I'd be waiting for her to inevitably tell me off for doing something naughty. This was my first foray into her writing, and I have to say she's pretty damn good at it.

Beyond Black is not so much a horror story as a bleak tale of exhaustive malign spirits from the afterlife mixed with the joyless reality of unpleasant people in soulless suburbia. I loved the main protagonist Alison, who is the overweight 'sensitive' (psychic medium) around whom the book is based. Alison had a harrowing childhood of abuse and neglect, living on a sink estate with a prostitute mother who unsuccessfully tried to abort her and a constant stream of violent criminals and soldiers from the nearby Aldershot barracks. Her past torments her on a daily basis as one of the men from her childhood has become her unwanted malevolent spirit guide, and Alison finds herself increasingly struggling to keep the past at bay as her childhood nemeses begin to congregate again in the afterlife.

Helping to keep Alison's life on track is her live-in manager Colette, who Mantel superbly portrays as a rude and cold android of a woman who is ruthlessly efficient at dealing with their business affairs and anyone who crosses their path, from sales people to nosy neighbours. Mantel plays out the relationship very well between these two, and we watch aghast from the sidelines as Colette increasingly takes control over Alison's every decision, gradually turning her emotional guns inward on the very person she's employed to protect.

Mantel takes her time developing the relationship between these two. At first the rope frays so gradually it's imperceptible, but as the years go by it unravels at an ever increasing speed. We start out not so much liking Colette as respecting her straight talking and effective management where Alison's concerned; she's Alison's bodyguard to life's day-to-day nuisances and unpleasantries, leaving Alison free to fight her mental battles with the afterlife. Whilst Alison is strong in her dealings with the spirit world, she's completely passive to Colette's dominance of every aspect of her life, and while we increasingly warm to her inherent good heart, Colette's directness becomes exposed as the cloak of a classic bully.

I really enjoyed this novel. It was highly inventive, unpleasant and disturbing at times, but the fantastic characters hook you in despite the raw and brittle backdrop.

4.5 stars - highly original and thought provoking. ( )
1 vote AlisonY | Dec 28, 2018 |
Showing 1-5 of 55 (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.
Mantel—a funny, scathing British novelist, too long ignored in the U.S.—is a master of dark subject matter, and in her latest, she’s created a protagonist who’s accustomed to darkness: Alison, a psychic, a woman trying to live a pleasant life, if it weren’t for the ghosts that keep tormenting her.
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'There are powers at work in this country about which we have no knowledge.'
H.M. the Queen (attributed)
To Jane Haynes
First words
Travelling: the dank oily days after Christmas.
Last words
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Wikipedia in English (3)

Alison Hart is a medium by trade and has the ability to communicate with spirits, but she feels this is a torment instead of a gift. She knows that the next life holds terrors that she must conceal from her clients, her days and nights are haunted by the men she knew in her childhood, the thugs and petty criminals who preyed upon her hopeless, addled mother Emmie. The more she tries to get rid of them, the stronger and naster they become......

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Haiku summary
I can channel ghosts
Colette is my manager
We are quite the team

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