This morning finished Beyond Black by Hilary Mantel. A curious book. A comedy about ... the life beyond, child abuse ... the general crapness of modern day Britain. All things to laugh at, hey?
Alison is a clairvoyant, passing on banal messages from dead relatives to audiences in seedy venues in the South-East. But there's no trickery involved - Alison's the real thing. She even has a spirit guide: "a grizzled grinning apparition in a bookmaker’s check jacket and suede shoes with bald toe caps” who sits around making lewd remarks and fondling himself, unseen by anyone but Alison. The dead are as solidly drawn as the living in the novel and even a disorientated Princess Di turns up in Alison's hallway a few hours after passing over.
I felt great sympathy for Alison, increasingly under psychic attack from a group of men who abused her sexually and physically as a child, yet unable to share with anyone the true horror of what she sees in the world beyond.
Her self-styled "manager" Colette, is a deliciously awful character - prim, humourless and cold ... and the way she gets her come-uppance delighted me. (Guess whose grubby little sock turns up in her washing machine?)
But what I loved most about the book was Mantel's spot-on portrayal of an England I recognise all too well, in prose that sings. (Check out the first page.)
If you've read the book you will enjoy this podcast interview with Hilary Mantel at the Guardian website. And there's also her article about where the novel came from. I liked this:
Which other self-employed persons stand up in public to talk about non-existent people? Novelists, of course. We listen to non-existent voices and write down what they say. Then we talk with passion and conviction about people no one can see.