Hilary Mantel's Last Gift: A Culmination of Brilliance in a Final Work

  • Culture
  • Saturday, 25 November 2023 10:46

In her posthumous work, "MEMOIR: A Memoir of My Former Self: A Life in Writing," Hilary Mantel bequeaths a final gift from the grave—a rich and rewarding compilation brought together by her long-term editor, Nicholas Pearson. This literary offering, priced at $34.99, transcends the boundaries of traditional memoirs, densely packed with essays, lectures, and reviews spanning the years 1987 to 2018.

Structured in a chronological narrative, the collection opens with concise, personal reflections before delving into Mantel's insightful reviews and her BBC Reith Lectures on historical fiction. The journey concludes with shorter yet equally compelling pieces, covering diverse topics such as cricket at Lords, the art of perfume criticism, the Biggles books, stationery, and a reflective moment before the 2016 US election.

Mantel's prowess as a critic shines through, especially in her reviews of fellow authors. From a thorough analysis of Rebecca West's selected letters to an exploration of significant female writers like Jane Austen and Sybille Bedford, Mantel's critiques are steeped in profound knowledge and insight. Even non-literary figures, predominantly royal women like Anne Boleyn, Marie Antoinette, and Princess Diana, become subjects of examination through Mantel's lens of mythology, with Diana haunting the collection as a "slender, melancholy wraith."

Her review of V. S. Naipaul's work serves as a masterclass in engaged scrutiny, where Mantel, while acknowledging the criticisms often leveled at Naipaul, remains a sympathetic reader finding delicacy and compassion in his writings. She navigates his complex narratives, acknowledging his flaws while appreciating the nuances that escape casual observation.

Mantel's own travel pieces, showcased in the collection, elevate the genre to a subjective and poetic level. The award-winning "Last Morning in Al Hamra," first published in 1987, exemplifies her ability to transcend the conventional travel memoir, offering a more intimate and profound exploration of the places she visits.

In this final literary offering, Hilary Mantel's intellectual prowess, keen insights, and compassionate critique echo beyond the boundaries of time, leaving readers with a lasting impression of her literary legacy. "MEMOIR" stands not only as a retrospective glimpse into her own life in writing but also as an enduring testament to the power of words and the depth of understanding one can derive from a life spent engaging with literature and the world at large.

Within the pages of "MEMOIR: A Memoir of My Former Self: A Life in Writing," Hilary Mantel unfolds a poignant narrative from her time residing in Saudi Arabia, where the revelations about the place intertwine seamlessly with insights into the complexities of the visitor. In this evocative piece, she unveils uncomfortable truths with a striking declaration: "It is not the country that is foreign, it is not the climate or the people, it is you." Here, the foreignness becomes an introspective mirror, reflecting the intricacies of the individual rather than the external environment.

The success of this particular exploration marked a significant juncture, kick-starting Mantel's venture into film criticism for The Spectator. Over the course of four extraordinary years, she authored a staggering 160 reviews, offering her unique perspective on the cinematic landscape. This stint not only showcases her prolific output but also underscores her ability to dissect and articulate the nuances of the cinematic realm.

In the tapestry of Mantel's literary journey, this period of film criticism stands as a testament to her versatility and intellectual depth. The reviews become not just critiques of movies but windows into her perceptive mind, reflecting the intersection of her personal experiences and the cultural tapestry she engaged with during this prolific chapter.

In conclusion, Hilary Mantel's "MEMOIR: A Memoir of My Former Self: A Life in Writing" paints a vivid tapestry of her intellectual and literary journey. The exploration of her time living in Saudi Arabia, encapsulated in a piece that delves into the complex dynamics between the visitor and the foreign landscape, becomes a profound reflection on the self. Here, Mantel skillfully unravels uncomfortable truths, asserting that foreignness lies not in the external surroundings but within the individual.

This pivotal moment serves as a gateway to her remarkable stint as a film critic for The Spectator. Over an extraordinary four-year period, Mantel crafted a staggering 160 reviews, showcasing her keen insights into the cinematic realm. These critiques transcend mere evaluations of movies; they offer glimpses into the intricate workings of her perceptive mind, where personal experiences and cultural engagement converge.

In the grand narrative of Hilary Mantel's life in writing, this phase of film criticism stands as a testament to her versatility and the profound intersections between her personal journey and the broader cultural landscape. As readers navigate the pages of "MEMOIR," they are not merely immersed in a collection of essays; they embark on a literary odyssey that reveals the intricate layers of a remarkable writer's intellectual evolution. The memoir becomes a lasting testament to Mantel's legacy—a legacy that continues to resonate with readers, inviting them to explore the depths of her insights and the richness of her literary contributions.