Monday, May 08, 2006


I’m not really liking Hilary Mantel’s Beyond Black. I’m about 300 pages into it (out of over 400), so I’ll finish it, but at this point it feels a little too much like work. The plot seems to be picking up a bit now, but the middle section is slow. It seems to me that Mantel has an interesting concept and good characters, but I’m not sure what she’s doing in terms of plot. The opening section was great, with Alison doing her show, channeling voices from the spirit world, and the part where we get background information on the characters’ childhoods is interesting, but after that, where are we going? I’m not sure why the characters are doing what they’re doing, why Morris, Alison’s spirit guide, disappeared, and why this new guy Mart is now in the picture.

I have to say, also, that I’m not all that interested in mediums and psychics and spirit guides and tarot cards and the whole world Alison lives in. I like to think that I can get enjoyment from reading about just about anything, if it’s done well – that I can use my imagination to understand and absorb new things – but either I have a real block against Alison’s ghost world or Mantel isn’t doing it very well because I’m just not into this subject. I’m willing to admit this might be my problem.

I will grant that the descriptions of the highways, the new, ugly shops, the sleazy public halls, and the housing development Alison and Colette live in that is now falling apart are quite well done. The landscape Alison and Colette move in is a degraded one with bizarre poisoned white worms, a plague of dying rabbits, and the children’s playground mysteriously roped off and marked as dangerous. It’s a cheap, ugly, tawdry world, and it’s no wonder people in this novel are fascinated by the prospect of the world they will enter after death, since this one is so depressing.