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Giving up the Ghost (No. 37)
Hilary Mantel Giving up the Ghost
Slightly Foxed Edition No. 37, Hilary Mantel, Giving up the Ghost
  • ISBN: 9781910898000
  • Pages: 232
  • Dimensions: 110 x 170mm
  • Illustrations: None
  • Publication date: 1 March 2017
  • Producer: Smith Settle
  • Genre: Memoir
  • Binding: Cloth hardback
  • Trimmings: Coloured endpapers; silk ribbon, head- & tailband; gold blocking to spine; blind blocking to front
  • NB: Hand-numbered limited edition of 2,000
  • Foreword: Maggie Fergusson
  • Number in SFE series: 37
Made in Britain

Giving up the Ghost (No. 37)

Hilary Mantel

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Hilary Mantel has said that this powerful and haunting book came about by accident. She never intended to write a memoir, but the sale of a much-loved cottage in Norfolk prompted her to write about the death of her stepfather, and from there ‘the whole story of my life began to unravel’. It is a story of ‘wraiths and phantoms’, a story not easy to forget.

Mantel grew up in a working-class suburb of Manchester, a clever, imaginative little girl, alert to adult atmospheres and overheard, half-understood conversations, and to strange, inexplicable presences she sensed around her. Her Catholic primary school, with its casual brutality, was a rude awakening, and before she went to senior school life at home had become an emotional obstacle course too, after her gentle and rather scholarly father was supplanted by her tougher and less sympathetic stepfather Jack. By the time she became a law student in London Mantel had fallen in love with her future husband, and it was then that the gradual signs of a painful and long undiagnosed medical condition began to appear.

Perhaps the most powerful and shocking parts of the book are her unsparingly honest, unselfpitying and grimly amusing accounts of her dealings with the medical profession. One result was that she was unable ever to have a child. But the daughter she had dreamed of haunted her imagination, and this little ghost, who was to have been named Catriona, is one of those she lays to rest. Another result was that she started writing. The rest, as they say, is history.

Giving up the Ghost is the story of a life full of challenges, but it is very far from being a misery memoir. It is a compulsively readable and ultimately optimistic account of what made Hilary Mantel the writer she is, full of courage, insight and wry humour.

‘Simply astonishing’ Guardian

‘She is by turns facetious, matter-of-fact, visionary and comical but always totally riveting.’ Daily Telegraph

‘A masterpiece of wit . . . [the] past, so thoroughly vanished, is made to live again here.’ Rachel Cusk

    ‘Beautiful, well produced, well written . . .’

    ‘Thanks for sending me the Alan Moorehead book. It’s the first one I’ve bought from Slightly Foxed and I am so impressed with its production. I also bought the Hilary Mantel memoir which I will...

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    A Flickering on the Staircase

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    Giving up the Ghost in The New York Times | 50 Best Memoirs

    Mantel . . . writes . . . with a fine ear and a furious intelligence, as she resurrects phantoms who ‘shiver between the lines.’

    Read more

    Comments & Reviews

    Leave your review

    1. As a poor Catholic girl growing up in the north of England, Hilary Mantel was an exuberant child of improbable ambition, deciding early on that she was destined to become a knight errant and would change into a boy when she turned 4.

      Her mesmerizing memoir reads like an attempt to recover the girl she once was, before others began to dictate her story for her. At the age of 7, looking about the garden, she saw an apparition, perhaps the Devil. She thought it was her fault, for allowing her greedy gaze to wander. Her stepfather was bullying, judgmental, condescending; anything Mantel did seemed to anger him. As a young woman, she started to get headaches, vision problems, pains that coursed through her body, bleeding that no longer confined itself to that time of the month. The doctors told her she was insane.

      The ghost she is giving up in the title isn’t her life but that of the child she might have had but never will. Years of misdiagnoses culminated in the removal of her reproductive organs, barnacled by scar tissue caused by endometriosis. Her body changed from very thin to very fat. Mantel, perhaps best known for her novels Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, writes about all of this with a fine ear and a furious intelligence, as she resurrects phantoms who “shiver between the lines”.

    2. Rachel Cusk says:

      A masterpiece of wit . . . [the] past, so thoroughly vanished, is made to live again here.

    3. Daily Telegraph says:

      She is by turns facetious, matter-of-fact, visionary and comical but always totally riveting.

    4. Guardian says:

      Simply astonishing

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