Wednesday, 1 September 2010

An Experiment in Love

Title: An Experiment in Love

Author: Hilary Mantel

Number of pages: 250

Started: 30 August 2010

Finished: 1 September 2010

Opening words:

This morning in the newspaper I saw a picture of Julia. She was standing on the threshold of her house in Highgate, where she receives her patients: a tall woman, wrapped in some kind of Indian shawl. There was a blur where her face should be, and yet I noted the confident set of her arms, and I could imagine her expression: professionally watchful, maternal, with that broad cold smile which I have known since I was eleven years old. In the foreground, a skeletal teenaged child tottered towards her, from a limousine parked at the kerb: Miss Linzi Simon, well-loved family entertainer and junior megastar, victim of the Slimmer’s Disease.

Plot summary:

Carmel McBain is a bright Lancashire-Irish child whose mother is fond of telling her, "your father's not just a clerk, you know"-though, in fact, he is. As Carmel grows up, this snobbish tendency metamorphoses into the brutal driving force of the girl's young life. As a teenager, with ambition bullied into her, she alternates between nights spent locked in her room to study and days filled with the "routine sarcasms of nuns." Carmel's move from posh convent to London university is a lonely one; at school, she undergoes a disturbing loss of self-awareness. Between her mother's ruthlessness and the cruelties of the nuns, Carmel's self-worth has been damaged, with near fatal results.

What I thought:

This was the first Hilary Mantel book that I have read. I thought I would start with a relatively short novel as a test case before potentially moving on to her mighty tome that is Wolf Hall.

It was an enjoyable tale of student life in the 1960s – not that the story was a particularly uplifting one. I thought Mantel’s writing style was very engaging and that she wrote really well. There was something about the story and her style that reminded me of Margaret Atwood, particularly Atwood’s book “Cats Eyes” which I read many years ago, although I found Mantel more accessible/ down to earth than Atwood.

So all in all, I found the book very readable and I might well be moving on to some of her more epic writing in due course.

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