Review: Beyond Black, by Hilary Mantel

I have to admit this is not my usual fare:  “A modern-day medium and a jaded divorceé navigate the world of psychic fairs, until a crazed spirit guide threatens to pull them over to the beyond — a place from which they can never return.”  But it was written by Hilary Mantel, author of the Booker Prize-winning Wolf Hall.  And it was nominated for the Orange Prize, just like Wolf Hall.  So I had high expectations, but I was ultimately disappointed and unable to finish this, my first book of 2012.

Alison is a spiritual medium, working fairs and stage shows where she brings her audience messages from those who have passed into “Spirit World.”  Colette, recently divorced, attends one of her shows and later becomes Alison’s business partner, helping to organize her diary and the accounts.  Alison is haunted by a troubled past, and by many spirits who speak to her routinely.  Among these is Morris, her “spiritual guide,” a presence from her childhood who is always hanging around and is, frankly, disgusting.  Colette brings a sense of order to Alison’s life, and working for Alison helps Colette land on her own two feet.

Weird?  Yes.  Intriguing?  Maybe.  But dreadfully slow-moving.  And then Princess Diana dies, and Alison & Colette meet up with other mediums and fortune-tellers.  I thought this might be interesting, but it was more of the same:  lots of talk, spirits intruding and making Alison sick, Colette fretting about, and Morris being disgusting.  Then Alison & Colette decide to try to get away from all this by buying a house in a new community, and that seems to take them forever.  Things weren’t looking good for them personally, and I figured anything that happened was going to take a long time.  Like another 165 pages.  I just didn’t have it in me.


8 thoughts on “Review: Beyond Black, by Hilary Mantel

  1. I still haven’t managed to get to Wolf Hall, but I’m determined to at least try to in 2012. I’ve heard Mantel is quite a polarizing author, and while I feel the need to experience her work given its wide acclaim, I have a feeling she’s an author I won’t like, even if she is one whose work I respect. Perhaps I’ll steer clear of this one though. Better luck with your next read!

    • Carrie, Wolf Hall was sooo different from Beyond Black! A friend told me Mantel’s books are all quite different, so I haven’t given up on her by any stretch.

  2. Yep, you and I were on the same page with this book! So disappointing to start the year with a clunker, but thankfully, there are 12 months of reading! =)

    • Jill, knowing that you didn’t exactly enjoy it made it much easier for me to just throw it at the wall. So thanks for that !! 🙂

  3. I completely know what you mean! I was initially entranced by the book’s descriptions of Alison and Colette’s individual lives before they meet, driving around grim outer london, and the flashbacks to Alison’s childhood…but the middle section completely turned me off! It was very repetitive and detailed lots of things which seemed unecessary – Alison and Colette buying a shed, for example – and Alison and Colette’s relationship seemed totally improbable to me… why Alison would put up with someone like Colette, or how someone would ever be so downright rude and disagreeable as Colette, was not very convincing.

    • Holly, I appreciate your comments. Every time I abandon a book I feel guilty for days after, thinking maybe I just missed something. You’ve made me feel “normal” again, LOL!

  4. This was the first Hilary Mantel that I attempted and almost put me off her for good. Fortunately, I was pushed into reading Wolf Hall for book group because, left to myself, I don’t think I’d have tried her again. And think what I’d have missed. I recently finished A Place of Greater Safety … I suppose it’s a prototype Wolf Hall, but doesn’t come off nearly as well.

    • Interesting, m, how your first exposure to an author can have such an impact. I’m actually wondering if my reaction to this book was so negative simply because I read WH first and it was so fantastic. I expected more of the same.

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