Thursday, September 01, 2005

Booker Review: Beyond Black, Hilary Mantel

Beth and Gayla both enjoyed Hilary Mantel's Beyond Black, but I'm afraid it did nothing for me. So little feeling did it inspire that I have spent fifteen minutes getting to this point in the review. I just don't know what to say. I am crippled by indifference. I can't even be bothered telling you what the book is about. Oh, all right then, it's about a stage medium (you know, a psychic) who is plagued by the dead, or, as the blurb has it, "They infiltrate her house, her body and her soul; the more she tries to be rid of them, the stronger and nastier they become." So there you go.

Sounds interesting, doesn't it? Well, it is, at first. There's no doubt Mantel can string a sentence together. Of course, this is the Booker longlist and (in my mind, at least) you need more than a pleasant prose style to justify your inclusion. But still, at least she can write. Mantel also does a good job fleshing out her protagonists and depicting the desolate estates where they ply their trade.

The problem is, having assembled all the elements of an entertaining novel, Mantel fails to write one. Beyond Black is loose and episodic where it needs to be tense and driven. I quickly became bored, and only stuck with it as long as I did because I knew I was going to review it. I still gave up halfway. It's a 450 page book, and frankly that was too much of a not-so-good thing. As painstaking as Mantel is with her characters, I couldn't bring myself to care one way or the other about them. As for Mantel's much-vaunted wit, it went right over (or under, but certainly not through) my head.

In conclusion, there's no technical reason for me not liking Beyond Black. I suspect it is simply a case of the wrong book in the wrong reader's hands. I wish I could love it or hate it; instead, I'm just glad I don't have to think about it anymore.

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