Twisted. Dark. Unsettling. Disappointing.
Thank you Henry Holt and Company for sending us a copy of The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher by Hilary Mantel; a bleak set of short stories that I’m now trying to shake off.
I have no idea what possessed this accomplished author to write these short stories. I also feel like I’m misusing the term “stories,” as a number of them were anything but. These encapsulated mini-plots were as abrupt as they were dark, and I could not help but feel like this was a push to make a fast dollar. Coming on the heels of Mantel’s well-deserved Booker Prize for Bring Up The Bodies (2013 – please click for review), The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher fails miserably to properly showcase Mantel’s talent. I felt like I was perusing the unfinished thoughts of a furious teenager.
These stories were completely bereft of any light. Mantel was trying so hard to shock me that she forget she was trying to share anything. More than once, I was left gaping at a story’s close, feeling disgusted and cheated. There was no such thing as a happy ending in any of these titles. The characters were painted in gray light with morose features and sallow moods. Some of the characters were morally reprehensible, which – sorry, I do not find even mildly entertaining. Any attempts Mantel made at titillation came across as a grotesque mean streak. I kept waiting, waiting for ONE character to demonstrate a human thought or even the tiniest degree of compassion. Nothing. I became almost desperate for one person to be redeemed. That wish was never fulfilled. Even the most “hearty” story, which in my opinion was “The Heart Fails Without Warning” (an unflinching look at a young teen’s struggle with anorexia), only offered a smug and robotic cast of characters who didn’t seem to blink while a child wasted away. At that point in the book, I became completely numb.
(And please don’t even get me started on “Winter Break.” This story wasn’t just unsettling. It was without purpose. Violence for the sake of violence may be effectively jarring, but it leaves me with disdain for the person who penned it.)
I will say this about The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher: Mantel’s writing is just as searing as ever. Her prose is extraordinary, and her words, which seem effortless, are masterful. At no time do I wish to diminish this author’s skill. I have considered the fact that my emotional reaction to these stories is due to effective writing. The irony of this is not lost on me. This is just one of those cases when I wish that the talent was used for good. I like my spirit lifted by a book. Not trounced by it.
I encountered an article from the Daily Mail that reported Ms. Mantel received her inspiration for these stories while she was high on morphine in the hospital, following a medical procedure. If that’s true, then it would explain a great deal. It makes perfect sense to me that the depths of these stories were encountered on a pharmaceutical-laden trip. I’m sure we have all come up with odd scenarios in our minds when we’re exhausted, dreaming, or just not quite ourselves. The difference, I’m afraid, is that we don’t necessarily publish those inane mental wanderings for the masses.
2 stars for The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher. One star for the stories, and one for the prose.