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Hilary Mantel, writer, 1952-2022 | Financial Times

“Writing,” Hilary Mantel told me in an interview at the end of 2020, “is the arena of peril.” The author has passed away at the age of 70, has written 17 books with a vast style and imagination. She has a knack for the intricacies of the human psyche and twists life and intimacy into historical fiction.

Her 12th book, wolf hall, the first in her Thomas Cromwell trilogy, which catapulted her to unquestionable fame. She was in her late fifties when it won her the Booker Prize in 2009. The second Booker will come with her following, Bring the agencies up. Mirror and light, published in 2020, gave her a fanbase for that rare book, which lined the streets.

She is a brilliant novelist, writer and short story critic, one who understands her own professional sense very well. She knew the need for practice and regularity, and never denied the elusive magic it could overcome. As a person, she is decent, generous, sly, honest. She reads contemporary novels by young writers with interest, paying attention to the news cycle.

Mantel was born in Glossop, Derbyshire, and raised in Hadfield, a small town near Manchester, then Cheshire, where she attended a convent school. She was raised by her mother and stepfather (her last name). She moved from LSE to the University of Sheffield to study law, where she met her husband Gerald McEwan (to whom she was married twice). “The story of my own childhood is a complicated one that I was always trying to complete, end, and put behind my back,” she wrote in her 2003 memoir. Abandon the Ghost.

In that spirited yet playful book, she describes the beginnings of a life-long struggle with endometriosis that began as a teenager and went undiagnosed until late. When she was 20 years old, when she was looking through a textbook, she found her illness on the page. Her college doctor sent her to a mental health clinic, believing she was imagining her symptoms. When he caught her writing, he assumed her stories were dark proof of madness and told her to stop. Mantel has campaigned to raise awareness and research about the disease.

Gerald’s work as a geologist brought them to Botswana in the 1970s for 5 years and Saudi Arabia for 4 years. She describes Saudi Arabia as “an extremely lonely way of life. My mind often goes back there.” Gerald gave up his job to work for Mantel. In 2010, they bought an apartment in Budleigh Salterton, Devon, where they have lived and worked ever since, Mantel going up the hill to her office every day, keeping her writing and life organized.

Hilary Mantel in London after winning the Booker Prize for her novel 'Wolf Hall' in 2009
Hilary Mantel in London after winning the Booker Prize for her novel ‘Wolf Hall’ in 2009 © Zak Hussein/PA

Mantel is president of the literary festival there, and recently auctioned his desk for more than £4,000 to provide funds for its literacy outreach work. But they had plans to move to Ireland – “Brexit is making me very unhappy,” she tells me in 2020. “I think leaving here is really going to break my heart. But there are considerations that make me uncomfortable in the UK at the moment.”

A recurring theme in her writing is death, or alternatively, how the dead survive: the survival of the past, what is forgotten and what comes back. Her 2005 novel In addition to black, about a vehicle called Alison, “all about how the dead can talk?”

An insightful and humorous critic, she has published works in the London Review of Books since 1987. She received her commendation in 2015 but has been outspoken about the monarchy. One of her lectures at the British Museum in 2013 made the front pages of national newspapers, when she described Kate Middleton as a “mannequin in the store”. The (sharp) criticism of the monarchy, and what was expected of women in the public eye, was turned into a personal attack. A short story about the assassination of the imagined Margaret Thatcher, 20 years in the writing profession, is also controversial. A polite, wise writer, but also a cheeky one, she has seen through power, whether it’s the Catholic church, the monarchy or the Conservatives.

Meeting the writers can be a disappointment, but Mantel is everything you want her to be. Her first and only agent, Bill Hamilton, said in a statement: “We will miss her immensely, but as a beacon of light to writers and readers, she has left her behind. an extraordinary legacy.”

Mantel believes in things beyond our understanding and is open to possibilities. In A recent question and answer with FT, she was asked if she believed in the afterlife. “Yes,” she said. “I can’t imagine how it could work. However, the universe is not limited by what I can imagine.” Her imagination is vast, but beyond what she can imagine, she believes, there is more.

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